University of Washington

Huskies’ veteran defensive line should challenge WSU’s quick-strike passing attack

Danny Shelton is one of the most massive, intimidating players in the Pac-12. He is listed at 6-foot-2 and 339 pounds, and he uses that girth to bully opposing offensive linemen and wreck running plays.

He also bought a toy crossbow during fall camp so he could shoot those little suction-cup arrows at teammates in the locker room.

And then there’s this: “We were messing around in the locker room all the time, wrestling around, acting like we’re WWE stars and stuff. Jumping off ladders and tables. That’s just how it is — showing these young guys we can have fun and still get the job done.”

Shelton and his teammates on UW’s starting defensive line — all seniors — have gotten the job done with more frequency than most others in college football this season.

Their numbers alone are staggering, compared to any UW defensive line from the past 20 years. Shelton, a nose tackle, is second on the team with 84 tackles, second on the team with 16 tackles for loss, and third on the team with 8.5 sacks. He is projected as a first or second-round NFL draft pick.

Hau’oli Kikaha, who moved to a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position this year, holds the UW single-season sack record with 17.5, which is also tied for the national lead, and he leads the country in tackles for loss with 23.5. He also holds UW’s career sacks record with 34.5.

Andrew Hudson, who was on his way out of the program prior to Steve Sarkisian’s departure and the hire of Chris Petersen, has rallied to total 10 sacks in 13 games, giving UW a pair of teammates with double-digit sack totals for the first time since 1982.

And Evan Hudson, a senior from Bothell, has started every game since switching to tackle from tight end prior to the 2013 season.

Together, they have combined for 237 of UW’s 883 total tackles this season, and 37 of the team’s 45 sacks.

And they might need a few more if the Huskies are going to win against Washington State in Saturday’s Apple Cup in Pullman (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1), this group’s final regular-season game together.

“They pride themselves on keeping the quarterback safe and moving the rock with quick passes,” Kikaha said. “We’ve just got to keep coming.”

WSU quarterback Luke Falk, a redshirt freshman, has displayed uncommon poise in the pocket and a natural ability to evade pass-rushers while still getting the ball to the right receiver. And that’s only when those pass-rushers are actually able to get to him.

“That ball is out in one-and-a-half, two seconds,” Huskies defensive line coach Jeff Choate said. “We’ve got to run and chase the football. And when we do get them in long yardage situations, turn it loose. (Kikaha’s) a pretty good doggone pass rusher. They’ll know where he is, and they’ll have a plan for him. But they better not forget about the other guys.”

During Saturday’s victory over Oregon State, Shelton and linebacker John Timu began rolling on the turf during a timeout, pretending to shoot fake arrows at each other as if they were archers. Other teammates joined in.

Shelton said several Huskies players have taken a liking to the TV series “Arrow,” which airs on The CW but is also available on Netflix. Hence, the playful arrow-shooting last weekend.

“We play along in the locker room and in practice,” Shelton said. “Me and John just thought of bringing it out. There’s no need to be shy in front of our crowd, so we decided to just have fun out there.”

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