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Originally published Sunday, September 7, 2014 at 8:39 PM

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Huskies 2-0 but rank 114th in nation in defense

UW has allowed 13 “explosion” plays of 20 yards or more; only seven teams in major-college football have allowed more.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Illinois at UW, 1 p.m., Ch. 13

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Two games is a small sample size. Even so, the numbers suggest a big problem for the Washington defense.

The Huskies (2-0) rank 114th in the nation in total defense, having allowed a combined 997 yards in victories over Hawaii and Eastern Washington to start the season. Further, UW has allowed 13 “explosion” plays of 20 yards or more; only seven teams in major-college football have allowed more.

“We’re very fortunate and happy we got the win,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said after the Huskies’ 59-52 victory over EWU on Saturday. “We’ve got a lot to get better at.”

EWU quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. threw for 475 yards and his seven touchdown passes were the most ever by a UW opponent. And now the Huskies and their beleaguered secondary have to figure out what to do against an Illinois attack that features one of the nation’s leading passers in 6-foot-5 Wes Lunt.

In Illinois’ 42-34 comeback victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday, Lunt threw for 456 yards and three touchdowns. For the season, Lunt, a transfer from Oklahoma State, ranks fifth in the country with 741 yards passing, with a 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in Illinois’ 2-0 start.

Adams, meanwhile, had five touchdown passes against UW that went for 20 yards or more. Kwiatkowski said the Huskies tried to mix up their coverages as best they could. When UW went into man-to-man coverage, Adams was able to beat UW’s young secondary over the top with his precision passing.

“Against this type of a guy, you know going into (that) if you stay in zone he’s going to pick you apart because he’s accurate and smart and knows where to go with the ball, and then when you play man you’ve got to hold up,” Kwiatkowski said. “We’ve got some new guys, some young guys out there, and the thing I’m proud of is the guys kept competing, kept battling and kept coming back. They didn’t hang their head.”

Two reserve cornerbacks, senior Travell Dixon and true freshman Sidney Jones, played most of the second half for the Huskies after junior star Marcus Peters was benched by UW coach Chris Petersen. Peters head-butted an EWU wide receiver, drawing an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that wiped out a third-down stop by the UW defense.

“They did awesome,” Kwiatkowski said of Dixon and Jones. “Those guys competed and kept battling. That’s what we want from these guys — just keep competing — and they made some plays out there and they did a great job.”

Washington came into the season needing to replace three starters in the secondary. Sophomore Kevin King and true freshman Budda Baker have started the first two games at safety.

Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly had another uneven performance in his second straight start at cornerback. True freshman Darren Gardenhire also got his first significant run at cornerback, and there figures to be even more shake-up in the secondary this week.

“We’ve got kind of all new guys in there, new schemes, and we’ve got to get them dialed in quickly,” UW coach Chris Petersen said.

Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or ajude@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @a_jude.



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