The true strength of Washington's defense lies up front. The Huskies possess multiple threats along the line of scrimmage and they do an excellent job of harassing quarterbacks and stymieing tailbacks. CU's offensive line will have to play one of its most complete games yet in order to give their ball carriers the necessary space and time to make plays.
Colorado's Offensive Line vs. Washington's Defensive Front
Continuity and experience have been talked about a lot this season in reference to the incremental improvement that Colorado has shown on both sides of the ball. Those two qualities have also been crucial to the success that Washington's defensive unit has enjoyed this year. Five seniors and two juniors comprise the Huskies' best front seven alignment. Each of those guys is a threat to create pressure and dismantle handoffs, and the linebackers are adept at dropping into coverage and sliding outside to break up screens.
Depending on whether or not Shaq Thompson pulls full-time offensive duty on Saturday, Washington's most dangerous defensive playmaker might be Hau'oli Kikaha. After registering two huge sacks against ASU last weekend he now holds the UW career sack record with 31.5 and is tied for the single season record with 14.5. The man is a terror off the edge and he must be stopped. Sefo Liufau and the line are going to have to quickly recognize when he's coming around the end while a blitz is being sent up the middle.
The interior of the Husky front is manned by big senior nose tackle Danny Shelton who weighs in at 339 pounds. Flanking him are the two Hudsons, Evan and Andrew, both seniors as well. Last weekend against Arizona State the undersized yet shifty Andrew led the Huskies in tackles with 10, including 2 sacks. These three do an exceptional job of occupying multiple linemen and giving their pass rushing linebackers open routes to the backfield. They'll be one of the most athletic and complete lines that the Buffs have faced.
Senior John Timu leads an opportunistic linebacking corps with 61 total tackles on the year and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. The Husky defense has actually done most of the scoring for this team of late, they lead the nation with 6 defensive touchdowns. The Buffalo offense is going to have to protect the ball and limit mistakes as any small misstep can easily be turned into Washington points.
Colorado's offensive line has performed fairly well up to this point. They've improved measurably, allowing less pressure to reach Sefo and executing their blocking schemes more effectively more often. The importance of continuity and repetition is evident within this unit. They've largely managed to keep their main five guys together until Kaiwi Crabb had to sit out last weekend's game. Freshman Gerrad Kough stepped in and played well enough and he may be called upon again come Saturday. The other four stalwarts, Alex Kelley, Sean Irwin, Stephane Nembot, and Daniel Munyer, will need to be at their best, allowing routes to develop and buying Liufau time to progress though his reads. Sefo and the offense's mistakes haven't necessarily come while under pressure, which is another story for another day, but all the same it's going to be crucial that the line give its backs space and time to create as Washington's defense closes on the ball quickly and will force a misfire given enough chances.
If the Buffs are able to keep the ball out of the hands of the Husky defense and withstand the pressure up front, they should be able to make headway through the air on a young secondary. Should Colorado claim its first Pac-12 win of 2014, it will largely be because Washington's pass rush was neutralized and the Buffalo air attack had room to operate at its highest level.