Washington Huskies

Defense comes up big in Huskies’ victory over BYU

It felt just like high school to Brandon Wellington.

The former high school running back and kickoff returner did this all the time at Eastside Catholic: Hold on to the ball, skirt defenders, trot into the end zone. Wellington was a first-team All-Metro League safety as a high school senior, but he was also a second-team running back.

So when the senior inside linebacker scooped up a BYU fumble during Washington’ 45-19 victory on Saturday, he knew exactly what to do with it. He took off, racing 69 yards into the end zone for the first touchdown of his career.

The fumble was caused by Ryan Bowman sacking Cougars’ quarterback Zach Wilson.

“It’s funny because during the week, we were doing all our fumble drills and stuff like this and (saying) it’s going to rotate to the game, it’s going to translate to the game,” Wellington said. “And it did.”

Wellington didn’t immediately return to the field with UW’s defense after that, but he said he wasn’t tired right away. It took some time for the adrenaline to wear off.

“I wasn’t really that gassed until a couple minutes after,” Wellington said. “It was like: OK, it finally hit me.”

Wellington and Bowman weren’t alone when it came to big defensive plays. After finishing with three interceptions in last week’s win over Hawaii, UW also forced three turnovers against the Cougars.

Freshman defensive back Trent McDuffie forced a fumble and then recovered it at the start of the third quarter, sending a clear message that the Huskies weren’t going to stumble again after the half.

Not this time.

The Huskies struggled in their last two third quarters against Hawaii and Cal. Combined, the two teams scored 27 of their 40 total points in the third frame. Wellington said that wasn’t on his mind — and he’s hoping his teammate weren’t thinking about it either — but it still felt good to set the tone.

“It was something that we needed as a defense just to really put that stamp on it for like, we’re not a bluff,” Wellington said. “We’re not coming out and it’s every third quarter somebody is going to hit (us).”

Elijah Molden also forced a fumble, but BYU recovered. Freshman Asa Turner came down with his first career interception late in the fourth quarter. Senior Benning Potoa’e finished with a sack and two tackles for loss. He sacked Wilson in the second quarter for a loss of 12 yards, which temporarily pushed BYU out of field goal range.

As a whole, UW’s defense held BYU to 356 total yards, including just 79 rushing yards. The Cougars went 3-of-13 on third-down conversions.

Salvon Ahmed out

Starting running back Salvon Ahmed didn’t make the trip to BYU. After the game, head coach Chris Petersen said he suffered a leg injury before last week’s victory over Hawaii. Since then, “it just got a little bit worse.”

While Petersen said Ahmed wasn’t close to being able on Saturday, he said say “he’s close to being able to play next week and the week after and the week after.”

Fellow junior Sean McGrew started in Ahmed’s place.

“There wasn’t anything different for me at all,” McGrew said. “I just had to watch an hour extra of film and just going through our plays in my head more. I just had to understand what our checks and audibles were so I don’t have to ask.”

McGrew didn’t disappoint. He finished with a career-high 110 yards on 18 carries.

“That’s awesome,” McGrew said. “Honestly, stats don’t matter to me. It’s just about doing whatever I can to help the team win. Stats are cool, but winning is even cooler.”

Redshirt freshman Richard Newton finished with 83 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He also caught a touchdown pass. He did fumble twice, and BYU recovered one.

“I thought (McGrew) did a nice job,” Petersen said. “I thought he found the creases, put his pads down. He’s not the biggest guy but I thought he did a good job of falling forward and that’s what we want out of our backs.

“I thought Rich Newton did a nice job. The two fumbles are tremendous learning situations for him, no doubt. But he’s a good player, a tremendous player. Sometimes you’ve got to go through things the hard way to get things figured out.”

Botched field goal

Leading 24-9 in the second quarter, the Huskies had a chance to extend their lead. But on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, UW made what seemed like a bizarre choice: They faked the field goal.

Or they tried to, anyway.

Instead, Race Porter was brought down after a 1-yard gain. After the game, Petersen took the blame. He said the Huskies ran the fake by mistake due to a miscommunication.

“That should not have been run,” he said.

Targeting on Tryon

Outside linebacker Joe Tryon was ejected for targeting after a hit on Wilson at the start of the third quarter. Petersen, who routinely defends targeting calls even when they go against his own players, didn’t change that mentality.

“I can’t tell you how much we work on that,” Petersen said. “Things happen fast out there in a flash. It’s all about about pad level. There’s a certain strike zone and if you’re not there, it’s a penalty.”

Extra points

Freshman wide receiver Puka Nacua, a Provo, Utah native, made his first career start but didn’t have a reception. … Freshman defensive back Trent McDuffie also started in place of redshirt freshman Kyler Gordon at cornerback. “The stage is not too big,” Petersen said of McDuffie. “He’s just ready to compete and ready to go. He understands what we do and he’s used to playing at a high level.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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