SEATTLE (AP) — Maligned for much of last year when it was among the worst units in the country, Washington's defense is now the reason for the Huskies' longest regular season win streak in more than a decade.
Heading into Friday's Apple Cup against rival Washington State, the Huskies defense has become a stout unit that doesn't give up points very easily.
After getting routed by Arizona last month and giving up 52 points for the second time this season, Washington looked like the same leaky defense from the past.
But the recent surge of four straight wins, potentially an eight-win season and likely a return to the rankings is thanks to the defense.
"It just took us a little time to mature on offense. But the end result is, (the defense) gained confidence by us playing that way," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. " . Knowing that we were going to lean on them, sometimes that's empowering. They felt that, and they've really responded. The way they've been playing this last month of the season has been tremendous."
Washington (7-4, 5-3) will head to Pullman to face the Cougars not having allowed more than 17 points in any of its last four games. It hasn't been against the toughest competition, but the improvement of the Huskies defense under first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has been startling.
A year ago, the Huskies gave up nearly 36 points and more than 450 yards per game. This year, the Huskies are allowing just 23 points and 350 yards per game.
Some of it is better personnel. Much of the improvement is due to better schemes under Wilcox.
The biggest improvement is with Washington's pass defense, which ranks ninth in the country and second in the Pac-12 and is giving up just 174 yards per game. While cornerback Desmond Trufant has remained the steady leader of the secondary, the emergence of Marcus Peters as the cornerback opposite Trufant and the athleticism of freshmen Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson have allowed the Huskies to stay in their base defense while continuing to play strong pass defense.