Husky D-Linemen Have Plenty of Yard Work to Complete

The high-powered Michigan ground game exposed the UW rushing defense deficiency again.

All anyone talks about are the new problems facing the University of Washington football team, among them the lack of a cohesive offensive plan, sustained blocking or quarterback production.

Sorry to pile on here, but just as alarming, if not more of a long-term issue, is the obvious fact the Huskies haven't found a traditional big-play replacement for the highly accomplished defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, who last played in 2019. They haven't come up with a front-wall dominator on the order of Danny Shelton, Vita Vea or Greg Gaines.

And because of this, for two seasons now, they haven't kept anyone halfway effective at it from running the ball down their throats.

Over the weekend it was open house at the Big House. A yard sale with a lot of yards for the taking.

Michigan reminded everyone that this particular Husky issue isn't anywhere close to being resolved, that Jimmy Lake's original coaching headache is still pulsating, that the job remains wide open.

From the 31-10 beating in Ann Arbor, the grim statistics don't lie: the Huskies gave up a generous 343 yards on 56 carries on the ground to the Wolverines, or 6.1 yards per run. They couldn't deal with a pair of rushers who each finished with 155 yards or more. There was no need whatsoever for Jim Harbaugh's Big Ten team to throw the football; in fact, it offered just 15 half-hearted attempts.

"We went into this thing trying to run the football, and our goal was to stop the run," Lake said from Ann Arbor. "And we didn't get those things done."

Luckily for the Huskies, they get a reprieve this week. They face a pass-crazy team in Arkansas State, a rotating-quarterback offense that put the ball in the air 66 times and completed 42 passes for 582 yards and 5 scores in a 55-50 loss to Memphis. Let the secondary do all the work on Saturday.

Stopping the run was a spring football and fall camp priority for the UW, with a slight variation: Use a three-man front far more often, or until an individual steps forward in a fearsome manner to permit just two. It hasn't happened yet.

The Huskies didn't put much pressure on the Michigan offense.

Washington didn't offer much defensive resistance against Michigan. 

Since Onwuzurike moved to the NFL as a high second-round draft pick for the Detroit Lions, the position room has appeared well stocked for the UW with Tuli Letuligasenoa, Taki Taimani, Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes, Noa Ngalu, Kuao Peihopa and Voi Tunuufi.

These are some of the most heavily recruited players on the roster. The Huskies flipped Letuligasenoa from USC. They steered Bandes away from Clemson and Florida. They landed Tuitele in competition with Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson. They outbid Alabama and Notre Dame for Taimani.

Against Michigan, Bandes, a redshirt freshman, started for the first time as a college player, getting in a stance alongside the slightly more experienced Taimani and Letuligasenoa, sophomores who opened for just their sixth and third games, respectively. 

Collectively, they didn't have one of their better outings in the Midwest spotlight, in TV primetime, in those heavyweight trenches. 

While Taimani finished with a career-high 7 tackles, Bandes had 3 stops and Letuligasenoa a lone tackle against the Wolverines.

It was not nearly enough to prevent Michigan from going up and down the length of the field nearly three and a half times, picking up big chunks of yardage.

The Husky D-linemen have been space-fillers and not much more. For two games now. In eight quarters, they have 1 tackle for loss from Letuligasenoa and not a sack to be found from anyone.

These guys are all compact size for a down lineman, 6-foot-2 or shorter and 300 pounds or much lighter, except for the 330-pound Taimani. They're nowhere near the intimidating figure presented by Steve Emtman, the UW's greatest DL ever 30 years ago and a 6-foot-4, 305-pound behemoth in his prime.

With pandemic allowances, they're all sophomores or younger in class standing, and  they're apparently still very much in development, except for those who might have peaked already. 

These linemen aren't necessarily pushovers, but they're still not the total package in fearsomeness yet. They can hold their ground, but many of them still don't get off blocks like they need to in order to shut things down.

Unable to wait on the older guys to figure it out, the Huskies have been leaning more and more to the new freshmen, Peihipa and Tunuufi, sometimes playing them together, over those first two games. 

From Letuligasenoa to Peihopa, there's got to be a playmaker in there somewhere at some point, able to blow things up.

Doesn't there?

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