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Preseason Opponent Preview: Washington’s Defense

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In what is likely to be one of Utah’s biggest games of 2018, the Washington Huskies kick-off conference play at Rice-Eccles Stadium on September 15 and bring with them one of the most highly regarded defenses in all of college football entering the season.

​Replacing PAC-12 defensive player of the year, Vita Vea is no easy task and one that would be cause for concern for most other PAC-12 teams. Thankfully for Chris Petersen and company, Washington isn’t most other PAC-12 teams. Sophomore Levi Onwuzurike steps-up to a starting role at defensive tackle in 2018 after seeing limited action backing-up Vea last season. Listed at 6’3” 290 lbs, Onwuzurike is smaller than Vea but showed a lot of promise in limited action as his back-up, accounting for 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in his redshirt freshman season. The week one matchup against Auburn will be a good indicator of what this rising star will be capable of as the season continues.

​Anchoring the line for the Huskies will be noseguard Greg Gaines. Even while hampered with injuries last season, Gaines was an important piece along an insanely talented d-line. Gaines is a fairly selfless player with a modest stat line, but his ability to hold the line and open up tackles for his teammates is nearly unparalleled in the PAC-12, making his return a priceless advantage for a Washington team with hopes of a playoff bid.

​Adding to Washington’s embarrassment of riches is a top-tier secondary that is loaded with NFL talent. Highlighted by cornerback Byron Murph, sophomore,and safety Taylor Rapp, junior, the Husky backfield is a bona fide nightmare.

Murphy, 5’11”, 182 lbs, recorded two interceptions in his first game against Rutgers last season but was later relegated to the sidelines after suffering a broken foot. He returned to the field after seven weeks to face Utah and Washington State in the final two games of the regular season before turning in a monster performance against Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. While the loss to the Nittany Lions was a disappointing blow to the Huskies, Murphy’s performance was a reassuring snapshot of things to come, racking up six solo tackles, one sack and an interception, making him one of the most exciting up-and-coming stars in the PAC-12.

It’s no wonder Washington is looked at as the top prospect to lead the PAC back to the playoffs, as few teams nationally boast as much defensive talent as the Huskies. It’s a daunting prospect, no doubt, but one that could have huge implications for a Utah squad with lofty expectations.