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Husky Comeback Win Didn't Solve Any of the D-Line Deficiencies

The UW proved far too generous again in giving up rushing yards, a season-long dilemma.
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Tuli Letuligasenoa was the hero of the Arizona victory, the first guy rushed to the interview room to explain everything, the player who came up with the game-changing interception.

There was great irony in all of this, of course, and it extended well beyond Letuligasenoa being a 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle from Concord, California, who stole an opposing pass. 

He and his University of Washington defensive-line mates had just been manhandled one more time, in this instance on a cool night in the desert.

As the Huskies head into the real meat of their schedule, with consecutive games against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, they haven't solved anything up front. As the point people in stopping the run, the D-linemen still give up large chunks up rushing yards, embarrassingly so. 

"The rush defense is very poor right now," UW coach Jimmy Lake said rather candidly in the Tucson aftermath. "Rush fits. Tackling. It's unfortunate we're playing so poorly."

Arizona couldn't win the game, begrudgingly accepting its nation-worst 19th consecutive defeat after losing 21-16 to the Huskies, but it could run whenever it wanted. 

The Wildcats piled up 218 yards rushing, 28 yards more than the UW had given up on the average coming in. Add this generous amount to the 343 rushing yards accumulated by Michigan, the 242 by Oregon State and the 237 by UCLA against the porous Husky defensive front over the past month and a half.

Freshman Voi Tunuufi tackles Arizona quarterback Will Plummer.

Freshman Voi Tunuufi had a tackle against Arizona. 

"There were some gaps that were uncovered," Letuligasenoa acknowledged, accepting blame but offering no ready solution. "As a defense, we're going to get that fixed up. I'm not sure. If anything, we were giving them that. It was more on us."

For two seasons now, since All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Levi Onwuzuike last played for the UW before heading to the NFL, this has been a major sticking point for the Huskies. They switched defensive-line coaches, from Ikaika Malloe to Rip Rowan, and things got worse.

On Friday night in the desert, they started true freshman Voi Tunuufi, redshirt freshman Faatui Tuitele and Letuligasenoa in a three-man front, and Arizona ripped off runs of 34 and 52 to make things more interesting than it should have. Subbing in at times was Jacob Bandes, who hasn't been able to unseat the others. 

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Left at home for this road encounter were sophomore Taki Taimani, who had started 10 consecutive outings at defensive tackle, and promising true freshman Kuao Peihopa, both injured. 

Tuitele, Taimani and Bandes still represent some of the heaviest recruited players on the UW roster. Reputations, however, haven't translated into college football excellence.

In his seventh game, Letuligasenoa finally came up with his first sack of the season, and just the fourth for the Husky defensive line. Tuitele has the other three. 

These guys in the fold will need to step up their games for the UW because there's no immediate help on the recruiting horizon. The Huskies at one time held commitments from Ben Roberts from Salt Lake City and Sir Mells from the Las Vegas area, only to have Oregon swoop in and convince both of these high schoolers to flip their scholarship pledges.

While the Huskies have supplied the NFL with its most dominant defensive lineman in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Vita Vea, the current players lack the necessary strength and take-no-prisoners approach to make a difference.

Opponents barely throw on the UW because the rushing yards come so easy. Stanford should be salivating at the prospect of getting its backs ready to run with supposedly so little resistance next Saturday in Palo Alto.

"I feel we've got to go and fix all those things," Letuligasenoa said. "Hopefully, we can stop it better."

Either that or the big defensive tackle will need to intercept a lot more passes. 

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