Sep 21, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies right end Josh Shirley (22) pressures Idaho State Bengals quarterback Justin Arias (18) during the second quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Huskies Football: Husky Pass Rush Faces Big Test


Sep 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Josh Ferguson (6) rushes the ball against Washington Huskies defensive end Josh Shirley (22) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Josh Ferguson (6) rushes the ball against Washington Huskies defensive end Josh Shirley (22) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest concern coming out of the Boise State win? The pass rush. At Illinois that rush showed some life, with a total of four sacks, three of which came from rush end Josh Shirley. Against weak competition in Idaho State, the Huskies feasted on the opposing quarterback. Nine sacks, including three from Hau’oli Kikaha. That’s progress in the right direction.

This Saturday UW opens up the conference slate with a home game against Arizona. It’s highly unlikely that the team can maintain the upward climb in total sacks per game, given the poor quality of Idaho State’s offensive line compared to Arizona’s, but the pass rush does need to replicate the kind of pressure seen against Illinois. Even more importantly, they can’t fail to impact the game like they did against Boise State.

The most impactful pass-rushers so far have been Josh Shirley and Hau’oli Kikaha. Both are juniors and both have been touted for their high-level of talent without putting together a full season in which they maximized that talent. For Shirley it’s been a matter of inconsistency. For Kikaha it’s been season-ending injuries. Both have put up one multi-sack performance this season.

Though guys like Evan Hudson, Andrew Hudson, Cory Littleton, Shaq Thompson, and Thomas Feeney will also factor into the pass rush equation, it will likely need to be Kikaha and/or Shirley leading the charge as bookends, Kikaha at strongside defensive end and Shirley at rush end. Once those two start to collapse the edges of the pocket, it will be that much easier for interior linemen and linebackers to feast off of the chaos.

That will be the plan, but too little is known about Arizona to know for sure that the Huskies will find success. The Wildcats have given up only three sacks in three games, all wins, but those wins have come against Northern Arizona, UNLV, and UTSA. Washington has been tested against Boise State and to a lesser degree the road trip to Illinois. For Arizona, this is the first big game.

Expectations have been lowered for Arizona in 2013 given the loss of Matt Scott and several other key players to graduation and injury, but Ka’Deem Carey is still around following his monster rushing year, and so is coach Rich Rodriguez, the engineer of last year’s surprisingly successful season.

Washington cannot look past the Wildcats. Instead, they must embrace the first challenge of the Pac-12 season. For the Husky pass rush, that challenge is all the more obvious given the initial struggles and the subsequent forward progress that Coach Sark and his linemen and linebackers will desperately want to continue against Arizona starting quarterback B.J. Denker.

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