Just did this yesterday for the offensive side of the ball, so here’s the logical sequel. I will bring up five statistics, either real stats from 2012 or stats I think I’ll see in 2013. Then I’ll explain myself. If it’s a stat from last year, I’ll tell you how I think it will change this season. If it’s a prediction for ’13, I’ll let you know what kind of change that would represent over last season, and I’ll lay out my reasoning.
17 Interceptions: That’s how many picks the Washington defense had in 2012. I think that number will be repeated, if not exceeded. Three of the 17 picks belonged to Justin Glenn, who has graduated, and 1 came from the departed Desmond Trufant. But the players responsible for nabbing the other 13 are returning. In particular, Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson each had 3, and Thompson in particular seems likely to meet or exceed that total next year. John Timu had two, and considering that he showed great instincts in defending the pass, I think he’ll continue to be a problem for opposing quarterbacks. Oh, and Sean Parker is back as a team leader on defense. The defensive backs may be a question mark due to the loss of a starting corner and a starting safety, but the playmaking ability of the defense as a whole remains unquestioned.
5.0 Sacks: The minimum number of sacks I see linebacker Shaq Thompson amassing in ’13. He had two last year, but the coaches have spoken frequently about their desire to put him in a position to make more plays this year. Combine that focus with a year of off season growth for the true sophomore, and I see more pass rushing success in his future. He’s the kind of player who should have nearly as many picks as sacks, and after a fantastic freshman year, this could be the season his profile goes national.
4.42 Rushing Yards Per Attempt: This is a good forty time. Unfortunately it’s also how many YPA the Washington defense surrendered in ’12, good for 76th in the country. Is that terrible? Not particularly. Compared to the 5.09 YPA given up in 2011, it’s a vast improvement. But compared to the improvements to pass defense in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s first year, ranking 76th is not that impressive. The elite defenses in college football give up closer to 3.0, and I think Washington will bring that number down closer to 4.0. Predicting a larger improvement is foolish considering that outside of Danny Shelton the defensive line is a question mark of sorts. But there is potential there, and the linebacking trio of Thompson, Feeney, and Timu is one of the best in the conference. Considering that almost no one was lost from last year, solid improvement is in order.
225 Passing Yards Per Game: That’s roughly how many yards I expect the reworked Husky pass defense to surrender. Last season, that would have tied Washington at 50th in the nation with Penn State. In reality, Wilcox’s unit averaged 197.3, a fantastic number good for 23rd in the country. A lot of that had to do with Desmond Trufant, who is now an Atlanta Falcon. Justin Glenn was also an underrated and steady presence at free safety. Sean Parker is still a top safety in the Pac-12, and Marcus Peters is back, but with two out of four starters being replaced, it stands to reason that the pass defense will regress a little. If the mediocre pass rush steps up, it could provide a big boost for the defensive backs, as could a great linebacking corps that will also defend against the pass. I’m just not sold on it happening.
19th in Total Home Defense: Washington was, understandably, much better defensively at home than away in total yards. Meanwhile, they ranked 51st in road defense. Playing at home, the Huskies were a totally different football team on defense. Some of that was struggling to perform on the road, and some of that was the noise level and intensity of Washington’s fans and CenturyLink Field. However, compared to the home field advantage that will be felt at the new Husky Stadium, the atmosphere at CenturyLink was nothing. Certainly a one of a kind venue for Seahawks games, attendance was not as high for Washington’s year as a temporary tenant. Back at home and with the extra buzz of the new building, road teams will struggle mightily. I expect UW to be a top-15 team at home this season. Now if they can only learn to defend on the road.