No. 5 Washington’s defense living up to its billing so far

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Washington linebacker Benning Potoa'e, right, pressures California quarterback Ross Bowers to throw incomplete at Husky Stadium in Seattle on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times/TNS)

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington’s defense was supposed to be excellent even though the fifth-ranked Huskies had to replace most of the secondary from last season.

It certainly has lived up to its billing so far.

The Huskies have allowed just two offensive touchdowns in 12 quarters of conference play. Granted, it hasn’t come against the highest level of competition since the Huskies’ three conference opponents thus far are a combined 0-9 in the Pac-12.

But it’s still an impressive stretch.

One of the touchdowns the Huskies allowed came on the opening drive three weeks ago at Colorado, a game Washington turned into a 37-10 rout. A week later at Oregon State, the Huskies kept the Beavers out of the end zone until the final 4 minutes when backups were manning the defense.

Last Saturday in a 38-7 win over California — an offense that had scored at least 20 points in its first five games — Washington limited the Golden Bears to just a second-half fumble return for a TD. California was limited to 93 total yards, the fifth-fewest allowed in Washington history. Washington also had eight sacks, tied for the fourth-most in school history and most since a school-record 13 sacks in a pair of games during the 1998 season. Washington also had eight sacks in last year’s win over Stanford.

“I keep saying this about every other week, I think sacks — they aren’t probably as significant as turnovers, but they’re one of the next most important things,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “I know from our side when it happens to us how it puts us in such a hole. Not that you can’t get out of it, but it’s really, really significant. And then if you can get a bunch of them? I just think it changes the mentality on both sides of the ball.”

What stood out about the pressure created by the Huskies on Saturday was the defense’s ability to do it without bringing extra pass rushers. Whether it was three or four pass rushers, the Huskies didn’t need to blitz in order to get at California quarterback Ross Bowers.

It helped that defensive tackles Vita Vea and Greg Gaines were able to dominate the line of scrimmage, while Ryan Bowman, Jaylen Johnson and Tevis Barlett were able to provide pressure off the edge. Bartlett had two sacks against the Bears and Johnson and Bowman each had 1 ½.

The only thing absent from the Huskies’ defensive resume so far is a shutout. That would seem to be unlikely this week against Arizona State and an offense averaging nearly 33 points per game.

“I mean we don’t really care about that — the win is what counts,” Vea said. “It definitely motivates us through the week but we don’t really worry about it as long as we win.”

NOTES: Petersen tried to put to rest his comments from last week regarding late kickoff times for the Huskies and the response from ESPN during Saturday’s broadcast. Petersen said his hope was to move on. “This is like a political job. I’m not really a political guy. I just try to be honest and there are certain times you do stand up for certain things and then you move on. What I need to do is move on and focus on Arizona State. That’s the most important thing for us,” Petersen said. ... In regard to ESPN’s telecast using cupcakes as a prop for one segment to highlight the Huskies’ weak non-conference schedule, Petersen simply said, “It is what it is.”

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