Huskies defense suffers after Kikaha’s injury in loss to UCLA
There’s no better example of how valuable Hau’oli Kikaha is to the Washington Huskies than Saturday’s 44-30 loss to UCLA.
The senior linebacker has been the Huskies’ undisputed best defensive player this season, and as the national leader in sacks and tackles for losses he has a claim to being the best defender in all of the country, too. But when he suffered a stinger early in the first quarter, it spelled the end of Washington’s ability to contain the No. 18 Bruins’ balanced offense.
Kikaha, who’s already Washington’s career and season record holder in sacks, started the game in his usual form, sacking UCLA’s Brett Hundley on the first drive to force UCLA into punting. But that sack was the costliest of his 16.5 this year, as he sustained his injury on the play and never returned.
It wasn’t pretty for the Huskies from there.
Already without 2013 second-team All-Pac-12 cornerback Marcus Peters, who was dismissed by Washington on Wednesday night, the Dawgs had no chance in stopping UCLA from running rampant after Kikaha’s exit. The Bruins scored on eight of its next nine drives, including five touchdowns.
The biggest problem was the Huskies’ lack of a pass rush, Kikaha’s specialty, as his sack was the only one Washington had on the day. Without feeling pressure, Hundley was free to do what he wanted in the pocket, completing 29 of 36 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. He made the Huskies pay with his feet, too, punching in a pair of scores on the ground.
It wasn’t just Hundley who took it to Washington, though. The Bruins’ exceptional balance was on full display, with Paul Perkins racking up 99 rushing yards, Bellevue product and two-way star Myles Jack adding a highlight-reel 28-yard score on the ground, and eight receivers hauling in two or more passes.
Losing their leader certainly had an effect on the rest of the Washington defensive players, and they weren’t shy to admit it.
“Hau’oli is a big factor in the game, and it’s pretty tough to do things without him,” defensive lineman Danny Shelton said. “We should have been more confident.”
Now it appears the only way to get that confidence back is with Kikaha back where he belongs, wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Washington better hope his injury isn’t a serious one.