Washington coach Chris Petersen had a plan Saturday for the Huskies to survive UCLA junior Josh Rosen, the nation’s top college quarterback and likely Top-5 draft NFL choice.
Stay patient, Petersen urged the defense. Don’t be discouraged if the time required to put pressure on the passer ends up being measured more in terms of hours than minutes.
“We thought it might take awhile to get to him,” Petersen said after his team’s comprehensively impressive 44-23 victory. “Everyone knows how he throws it, and I really admire how he plays in the pocket. He doesn’t take a lot of sacks and he doesn’t get hit.”
On the Bruins first snap, Washington’s 322-pound Greg Gaines burst into the backfield and sacked Rosen for an 8-yard loss.
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“All that great psychology was out the window,” said Petersen, “when we got him right away.”
The crisp and sunny weather was ideal for fans who’d come to forget what a glorious afternoon is like at Husky Stadium, but not so hot for Rosen. On second thought, maybe it was very hot for Rosen, under siege until midway through the third quarter, when he left the field with an undisclosed injury.
When the quarterback returned to the sideline, he was wearing street clothes. Rosen had thrown for 2,620 yards and 19 touchdowns prior to Saturday, when the Huskies held him to 12 completions for 93 yards.
Gaines’ early sack was followed up with similar efforts by defensive lineman Vita Vea, outside linebacker Benning Potoa’e and cornerback Austin Joyner.
Rosen briefly showcased what all the hype is about — when there was time to set his feet, the passes he delivered were pinpoint — but he rarely had time to set his feet.
“You could tell he was under stress every time he dropped back,” said Joyner, a sophomore from Marysville. “You could tell he was feeling the pressure, pulling the ball back. He wasn’t in a passing mode anymore. He was trying to get out of the pocket.”
Given how injuries have ravaged the secondary, the UW’s ability to exert its will against an offense as high-powered as UCLA was remarkable. Absent starting cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller, the Huskies didn’t seem to miss a beat.
“It starts up front,” said Petersen, who added a few twists to the playbook in anticipation of Rosen. One featured Joyner on a blitz that found the 5-foot-10, 185-pound cornerback tackling Rosen, who stands 6-4 and 218.
When cornerbacks 30 pounds lighter than you are taking you down a few seconds after the snap, it’s an indication your day has gone awry.
“Multiple times, when I was looking into the backfield, I could see him start to move earlier than he needed to,” Joyner said. “He looked like he felt the pressure of the big guys getting after him, and it played to our advantage.
“You get Vita Vea and Greg Gaines falling on you, those are 300-some pound guys. That’s gonna hurt.”
While the Huskies dominant pass rush was the prevailing narrative of the afternoon, there were highlights all around: The offense rolled up 333 rushing yards, essentially reducing the role of quarterback Jake Browning to that of a hand-off distributor.
Meanwhile, the special teams units, thanks to the bounce-back contributions of inconsistent placekicker Tristan Vizcaino, were stellar in all phases.
All things considered, putting 44 points on the scoreboard was the best way to prove that 13-7 clunker the Huskies suffered at Arizona State two weeks ago was an aberration.
But Washington doesn’t win Saturday if it permits Josh Rosen to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns.
“If we play to our level, if we do what we know how to do, it doesn’t matter who we play against, or what the quarterback is, or what record they have,” Joyner said. “It doesn’t matter as long as we handle business how we can. Today we did that.”
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath