The Huskies were a defense that was a bit of a work in progress last year, trying out a lot of new players in key defensive roles. As the year came to a close, they were able to put together some pretty impressive defensive outings, indicating a lot of improvement for this season.
They'll be returning their defense from a year ago pretty much intact, as their two-deep roster is filled with players that saw a lot of game experience a year ago. The strength of their defense, according to most, is their secondary, where they'll present a zone-heavy cover-two type of coverage.
"They're good in their secondary from what I've seen," noted quarterback Riley Nelson. "They mix things up a bit, but they're pretty much a zone team that is disciplined in their coverages. They have good cornerbacks and it's going to be a challenge for us to make plays against them."
While the coverages are expected to be tight, the biggest challenge to the Cougar passing attack may come from up front.
"I'm very sure that they'll be throwing a lot of blitzes at us," said Nelson. "We have two new starting quarterbacks and that's what you do with starting quarterbacks. You try to throw them off, throw their rhythm off, and we have to be ready for that. Fortunately, I feel that both Jake [Heaps] and I have had a very good week of practice and we're ready."
Given the notion that a lot of blitzes will be coming the Cougars' way, it's good that they'll be able to rely on a very seasoned offensive front to counteract any surprises.
"Our guys up front have seen it all and we have a ton of confidence in them," said Kariya. "I don't think anything Washington or anyone else will throw at us will be anything we haven't seen before, but we do know they'll be a challenge and you have to be ready for it."
The blitzes could come from anywhere, as the Huskies aren't given to blitz from just one specific area.
"They bring the corner blitzes quite a bit from what we've seen," noted Kariya. "They'll blitz the safeties [and] middle linebackers. They'll bring it from everywhere, which is really a challenge for any offense."
Nelson, Heaps, Kariya and the rest of the offense can rely heavily on an offensive front that will be led by left tackle Matt Reynolds. Reynolds, like the rest of the offense, has poured over a lot of film of Washington and what the team will present from its 4-3 base defense.
"They like to mix it up a lot up front," noted Reynolds. "They play a four-man front, but they change it all the time. They'll go with five guys up front, three guys sometimes. They like to keep you off-balance, which is always a challenge and something we'll have to be ready for."
In watching film, one player has particularly caught Reynolds' notice.
"They have a really strong nose tackle," he observed. "He's a guy that demands a double-team and their ends are all very athletic. We expect them to bring a lot of different looks and to try to pressure us a lot, so you have to be ready for anything. Fortunately, we're an experienced group and I have a lot of trust in all of our offensive linemen to get it done."
Defensively, Washington is comparable to Oklahoma in regards to the schemes they like to run. Oklahoma was obviously Kariya's best game, and he'll look to have similar success against the Huskies.
"That would be outstanding, but most of all, it will be outstanding for our team if me, J.J. [Di Luigi] or anyone else has a productive run game, as it will open a lot of things up," he said about the prospect of a repeat performance of what he showed against Oklahoma a year ago. "We feel that we're ready. Coaches have done a great job scouting them out, but it's the first game, so you never really know exactly what it coming probably more so than in any other game we'll play this year."