As Washington prepared to face Hawaii last week, the defensive backs fielded question after question about the Rainbow Warriors’ run-and-shoot offense.
They were asked just how unique it was. They were asked if there was anything they could compare it to. They were asked how they were preparing to face a flexible system that’s designed around receivers changing their routes on-the-fly.
Through it all, they couldn’t stop smiling.
Here’s why: Hawaii entered the game fourth in the country with 428.5 passing yards per game, which meant the secondary would get plenty of chances. Then there was quarterback Cole McDonald, who threw five interceptions in the Rainbow Warriors’ first two games. That was an attractive statistic for a UW team still looking for its first turnover of the season.
“It’s always fun because we know we’re going to get tried,” said senior safety Myles Bryant. “Every opportunity that we have to go against a team that’s going to throw the ball, we want to take it. We know that a lot of time, teams want to run the ball. Once you get the opportunity to throw it, the DBs start having fun.”
It’s safe to say they had a blast in the Huskies’ 52-20 victory Saturday over Hawaii at Husky Stadium. For most of the game, there were six defensive backs on the field. Sometimes, defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake sent out seven.
“If it was my choice, we’d play 11 DBs,” Bryant said with a grin. “That’s not a smart move. Teams would just run the ball … You got to take on those 300 pound linemen. Six DBs, that’s always fun.
“A lot of guys are playing positions that they’ve never played before. A lot of us in the room have that learning curve to where we all are yearning to learn. We’re all eager to learn whether that be playing down in the box or playing outside, inside, even at safety. It’s always exciting to get all of us out there.”
Exciting for UW, yes. Not so exciting for the Rainbow Warriors.
The Huskies finished the game with three interceptions, and Bryant had two of them. He started by picking off McDonald’s second pass of the game at Hawaii’s 44-yard line. UW then scored on a 22-yard run from Sean McGrew to go ahead 14-0. In the second quarter, Bryant picked off McDonald again. That one led to a 23-yard field goal from Peyton Henry.
“It was nice to get some (interceptions),” said UW head coach Chris Petersen, “because the kids have been working a long time to get those turnovers and it’s been a couple games since we’ve gotten any so hopefully they keep coming in bunches. Changed the game for us.”
In the fourth quarter, true freshman safety Cameron Williams hauled in his first career interception at midfield off a tipped pass by linebacker Kyler Manu. The Huskies went on to score on an 8-yard run by Richard Newton.
“Just like a level of maturity,” Bryant said of Williams’ early development. “I think he was already mature when he got here but then just as far as like taking coaching and just understanding how the defense works. I feel like he’s come a long way in that sense even just from fall camp to the third weekend of the season, I feel like he’s come a long way just understanding how important communication is on the field.”
Petersen didn’t have an explanation for the lack of interceptions in UW’s first two games, but the Huskies went through a similar drought last season. They didn’t get their first interception until the third game of the year against Utah. After that, they didn’t record another until three weeks later against UCLA. UW’s first multiple interception game in 2018 happened in Week 10 against Stanford.
“I feel like at this point, once the team starts getting turnovers it just becomes a downhill thing until it just keeps happening and happening,” Bryant said. “Hopefully from this point on, it just keeps going and going.”
Along with forcing turnovers, the Huskies also held Hawaii to 254 passing yards, including 142 in the first half. They appeared to address the tackling issues that plagued them in last week’s 20-19 loss to Cal. Still, Bryant is far from satisfied.
“We won today,” Bryant said. “Of course I feel better about that. Defensively, I feel like there are still things that we need to improve. We gave up, what was it 20 points? As a defense we like to get shutouts and I think this is our third two-minute drill in a row that we’ve lost. That’s something we need to improve on and I feel like that’s going to be an emphasis coming up in this next week.”