Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria of the Washington Huskies are two of the most talented linebackers in college football. Together, they must prevent a stout UW defense from taking a step back.
As college football fans count the days until kickoff, there’s no better time to make a prediction for the upcoming year. Today’s prediction? The Washington Huskies will showcase the best tandem of linebackers in the country.
Seniors Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria will return to UW’s front seven this fall. Amidst an exodus of talent to the NFL, Washington is anticipated to lose a step or two on the defensive side of the ball. Victor and Bierria will prove that wrong.
Victor: Recovered and Resurgent
After a stellar sophomore season (95 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles), Azeem Victor was off to an even better start in 2016. He racked up 68 tackles through nine games before being carted off the field in the second quarter of Washington’s Nov. 12 game against USC. Victor suffered a broken right leg, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
His absence was immediately felt–the Huskies took two losses in their final five games of the year. Both his physical presence and emotional leadership, on and off the field, were vital to a successful Washington team.
As the unquestioned leader of “Death Row” and a beast on the football field, Victor is as fun to watch as any defensive player in in the NCAA. He’s just one half of the skilled duo in Seattle.
Bierria: Dominantly Opportunistic
The Carson, Calif. native racked up 68 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles last season as well. Most importantly was his ability to play consistent downs–an invaluable trait for a defense tasked with stopping fast-paced West Coast offenses. As Washington’s players fell to injury late in the season, Bierria never wavered over a stretch of 14 games.
As a matter of fact, both he and Victor are each capable of delivering bone-crushing hits to set the tone early on in games. The Sep. 30 game against Stanford was the most notable case of this.
The Washington defense held a Heisman candidate running back in Christian McCaffrey to just 49 yards on the ground, as UW torched the No. 7 Cardinal 44-6. Washington’s two leading tacklers in that effort? Victor, with 11, and Bierria, with eight.
Defensive backs Kevin King, Sidney Jones, Budda Baker, and defensive tackle Elijah Qualls will be playing on Sundays this fall. The void left by the departure of so many veteran defensive players will have an impact. Are Bierria and Victor ready to take on even greater responsibility?
They at least won’t be alone. The Washington linebacking corps as a whole is also among the nation’s best. Junior Ben Burr-Kirven, sophomore DJ Beavers, senior Connor O’Brien, and junior Tevis Bartlett were all contributors last season and have seen plenty of field time.
Naming the Victor-Bierria duo the best in the country may be a bit premature. Obviously there are other dominant linebacking corps–at Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, USC–to name a few. A repeat Washington appearance in the College Football Playoff means we’ll have the opportunity to watch a great matchup between the Huskies’ tandem and another of the nation’s best.