The strength of the Huskies is on the defensive side of the ball and that all starts on the defensive line.
Nose tackle Danny Shelton is among the best at his position in the country, totaling 73 tackles on the season. What’s even more impressive is that he has 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 of which are sacks.
Senior Andrew Hudson is the starter at defensive end and he has put together a solid season. Hudson has 54 tackle, nine coming for loss and six that are sacks.
If there is a weak point on the defensive line, it is 6-foot-6, 273-pound defensive tackle Evan Hudson.
Hudson has 21 tackles on the season and has been extremely inconsistent. His numbers are probably lower than they should be because of the guys around him, but the other two defensive linemen are still the better players.
Highlighting the linebacker unit is Shaq Thompson, who may be the best overall athlete in the Pac-12.
Thompson has lined up at running back the past few weeks and will see some action on that side of the ball on Saturday, but is an effective linebacker.
He has a knack for the ball and has forced three fumbles. He has 58 tackles and would probably lead the Huskies in that category had he played more on defense this season.
Senior Hau’oli Kikaha has put up stats that are unmatched throughout the country. He currently has an absurd 22.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. The Huskies are going to be aggressive with him and Arizona is going to have to find a way to block him if it is going to be successful on offense.
John Timu is one of the more experienced players on defense and leads the Huskies with 75 tackles. Besides Thompson, Timu is probably the best backer in coverage as well, as he has broken up nine passes this season.
Lanky linebacker Travis Feeney rounds out the unit. He’s been in on some big hits this season, but has been engulfed by linemen quite a few times. Feeney has potential, but is probably one of the weaker players in the front seven.
Moving on to the secondary, losing Marcus Peters was a devastating loss for the Husky defense.
Washington moved wide receiver John Ross to corner and the 5-foot-11, 179-pound sophomore has done a pretty good job. He is still learning the position, but has obvious playmaking ability and his length will pose fits once he gets better acclimated to the position.
Freshman Sidney Jones will get the start at the other corner position. Jones has yet to intercept a pass this season, but has done a decent job for a freshman.
Safety Budda Baker is one of the most talented young defensive players in the conference and will lead this Husky defense in a matter of time.
He is third on the team with 63 tackles and has the ability to make a big play when necessary despite not forcing any turnovers this season.
Sophomore Kenny King will get the start at the other safety spot. He’s likely not as good as Baker, but has 50 tackles on the season.
Players to Watch
#7, LB Shaq Thompson: In a league of outstanding linebackers, there might not be a more talented one than Thompson. Although he has been running the ball, expect Thompson to play linebacker against Arizona. He is more than capable of being a disruptive force against the run and pass.
#8, LB Hau’oli Kikaha: One of the few players in the conference who has matched Scooby Wright’s impact this season, Kikaha has been a ferocious pass rusher and figures to be a high pick in next year’s NFL draft.
#55, NT Danny Shelton: The mammoth nose tackle might be the most indispensable defender on the Husky roster. Big enough to control two gaps, but nimble enough to pressure the quarterback, Shelton might be the most complete lineman the Arizona offensive line faces all season.
Keys to the Game
Get rid of the ball: This doesn’t figure to be a game where Solomon has all day to throw. Multiple Washington defenders have the ability to get after the quarterback and it will be imperative for Solomon to identify his hot read.
Go after the secondary: The dismissal of Marcus Peters was a major blow to the Husky defense. No other cornerback on the roster possesses Peters’ ball skills or physical ability. Every Arizona wide receiver figures to have an advantage over the defending cornerback.
Don’t turn the ball over: Even though Washington is coming off one of its highest scoring games of the season, this is still not a squad that will consistently put up points. Washington’s best chance to win this game will come from forcing turnovers.