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No. 15 Washington continues to reload in standout secondary

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

By TIM BOOTH

AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) Given Washington's recent track record, it's almost a given opponents will struggle to throw against the Huskies.

The Huskies continue to turn out talent on the back end of their defense and at the same time are developing innovative ways of shutting down opponents, like they did Saturday in stymieing the passing game of Southern California.

"I think they do a nice job of keeping enough on their menu to keep teams off balance and not oversaturate our kids with too many things," Washington coach Chris Petersen said.

The 15th-ranked Huskies' defensive game plan to shut down the Trojans worked nearly to perfection, with Washington allowing just 163 yards passing in its 28-14 win over USC. Through five games, the Huskies are giving up just 203 yards per game passing, good for second in the Pac-12, behind only Oregon.

Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake takes pride in teaching NFL techniques in an NFL-based system. He wants his guys ready for the next level by the time they're prepared to leave Washington.

And that means sometimes coming up with unique game plans.

Case in point, the win over USC.

"Coach Lake gives us a good game plan and guys are able to execute it," safety Myles Bryant said. "It's just the preparation we have within the week. Guys are just adaptable. Whatever he throws at us, guys are able to pick it up and execute it."

Lake knew Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns were by far the favored targets for whoever was the Trojans' quarterback. That was clearly apparent on film and in the stats. So Lake and the Huskies decided to focus the majority of their attention on those two, even if it meant sacrificing in other areas.

Doing so meant rotating a variety of coverages. Sometimes it was man-to-man press coverage. Sometimes the cornerbacks played off with help over the top. The most unique was the handful of times Washington split out an outside linebacker - typically a pass rusher - to chuck the wide receiver at the line and then pass off coverage to a cornerback playing over the top.

It was odd and ingenious all at once. And it clearly worked.

"We definitely had some different wrinkles that they hadn't seen, that we haven't put on tape," Lake said. "We wanted them to look up and go `whoa, what is going on?' Just change the picture for the quarterback, change the picture for the wide outs and don't give them an easy look that they've been game planning for all week long. It worked out."

How well did it work? USC had five touchdown passes of 29 or more yards through the first four games. The Trojans had one pass completion of more than 19 yards against the Huskies.

Of Matt Fink's 19 completions, 16 went for less than 10 yards. The Huskies had not allowed a pass play of more than 28 yards and finally saw that streak end when a blown coverage led to a 44-yard TD pass to Pittman. But that was it. The other two completions of note went for 12 and 19 yards to Vaughns in the fourth quarter.

"I think we were just trying to take away their big plays," Bryant said. "They were able to get one on us, which isn't too good. It's just a credit to our defense being flexible and adaptable and do whatever coach asks us."

Additionally, the Huskies aren't afraid to rely on their youth. Freshman Cameron Williams had two interceptions against USC. Freshmen Trent McDuffie and Asa Turner have seen extensive playing time. If there's talent, Lake is going to get it on the field.

"It's definitely a proud moment when you see a guy who you just recently recruited, recently signed, arrive here, learning the techniques, learning all the coverages and then for him to go out there in a big game against a big-time opponent and make those plays," Lake said.

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Updated September 30, 2019

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