OK Huskies, How Will You Stop or Slow the Air Raid?
Everybody knows what's coming, they just don't have a clue how to properly shortcircuit it.
Washington State's Air Raid. Mike Leach's mad-genius offense. Arena Football, the Palouse version.
The Huskies get their turn against the nation's most prolific passing attack in Friday's Apple Cup at home. They're hoping for the best.
"I think we have a good scheme, trying to get interceptions and pass break-ups and tackling those guys to the ground," UW senior free safety Myles Bryant said in the accompanying video. "There's a lot to look forward to."
That sounds brave.
Bryant may change his mind once his tongue's hanging out, his heart's beating out of his chest and these cross-state rivals are zeroing in on 50 points each in a shootout.
That's no outward slight to the Husky secondary--no one else in the Pac-12 has figured out how to disrupt Leach's seemingly unstoppable offense. There's no snow in the game forecast this time.
The Huskies (6-5 overall, 3-5 Pac-12) enter the 112th meeting of this state rivalry with a rebuilt five-man secondary that's been dealt some painful lessons along the way. Facing WSU (6-5, 3-5) will be its ultimate test.
The UW unit consists of Bryant, the only returning defensive starter from the season before; junior cornerbacks Keith Taylor and Elijah Molden, guys who waited their turn to become regulars; plus a couple of newcomers, freshman corner Trent McDuffie and freshman strong safety Asa Turner.
The group hasn't quite lived up to the fanfare surrounding it coming into the season. In fact, this last row of Huskies has looked fairly ordinary most of the way, getting beat late in games and dealing with the resulting personnel changes. Former UW players suggest these guys aren't physical at all.
Washington's pass defenders will try to limit the damage typically perpetrated by Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon, who comes off a mammoth 606-yard, six-touchdown throwing performance in WSU's 54-53 shootout victory over Oregon State.
Gordon owns a Pac-12-record 45 passing touchdowns, two more than the previous mark shared by the UW's Jake Browning and California's Jared Goff.
While the three Huskies upperclassmen have started every game this season, McDuffie and Turner moved into the lineup only after fellow freshmen, Kyler Gordon and Cam Williams, were victimized as first-teamers.
The Huskies have nine interceptions, but their leader, Williams with 3, has been a reserve for five games, demonstrating the inconsistency of the unit.
"It's always be ready," said Taylor, who remains hopeful about the maturation of the freshmen. "It's next man up, continuing to grind. Guys like Trent McDuffie, Cam Williams and Asa Turner, I'm really proud of them to see how they're building skill every day. Those guys are going to be great for us in the future."
However, these same UW pass defenders have to show themselves on Friday. It could be a long day. They're not great yet.
Kyler Gordon was a targeted man when Cal marched down the field and beat the Huskies 20-19 with a late field goal. Williams got picked on by Stanford and gave up his position following the 23-13 defeat.
McDuffie had his difficulties last weekend at Colorado, getting outwrestled for an end-zone ball by the Buffaloes' Laviska Shenault in the 20-14 loss.
Air Raid either will give the Huskies a chance to demonstrate some progress at the end of a lost season or suffer further embarrassment. It's up to them to make the most of it. Take it from an exiting veteran.
"It goes by really fast," Bryant said, preparing to play his final game at Husky Stadium. "I tell the young guys you have to take advantage of every game you get, every snap you get."
In that case, it likely will be a Cougar pass on nearly every down.