A half decade of dominant UW defense

It’s no secret that the Huskies have sported one of college football’s finest defenses the last several years. But just how good has it been compared to the other elite defenses in college football? Here are some statistics that suggest that Washington’s defense has not only been strong and, at times, dominant over the last four to five seasons, but has been consistent in a unique and superlative way.


Twenty teams held their opponents to under 20 points per game last year according to cfbstats.com. But only two programs have come in below that mark each of the last five seasons: Alabama and Washington.

During that time, the Huskies ranked in the Top 15 in scoring defense every season, in the Top 10 three times, and cracked the Top 5 twice.

YearPoints AllowedNational Ranking
201518.8 ppg13th in FBS
201617.7 ppg8th in FBS
201716.1 ppg5th in FBS
201816.4 ppg5th in FBS
201919.4 ppg15th in FBS

While the Huskies never ranked higher than 5th in the nation in any given year in scoring defense, the cumulative effect of this level of consistency has the Huskies as the fourth best scoring defense in college football over the last five years.

SchoolGames from
2015 – 2019
1. Alabama Crimson Tide721,10215.31
2. Clemson Tigers741,18516.01
3. Wisconsin Badgers681,12216.50
4. Washington Huskies671,18217.64
5. Georgia Bulldogs691,22317.72


As strong as Washington’s scoring defense has been over the past five years, it still understates how consistently the Huskies’ defense has kept opponents out of the end zone. After all, touchdowns on short fields, garbage time touchdowns and touchdowns allowed by the offense all count against a team’s scoring defense statistics. The UW has managed only one shutout during this five-year stretch, but a closer analysis shows several close misses and many games where the first-team defense did keep the opponent from scoring a touchdown at any relevant point.

YearOpponentScoreOpposing touchdowns
2015Sacramento St.W, 49-0none
2015ArizonaW, 49-3none
2015at Oregon St.W, 52-7UW led 52-0
2016RutgersW, 48-13UW up 48-6 with 6:00 left
2016IdahoW, 59-14UW up 42-0 late 3rd qtr
2016Portland St.W, 41-3none
2016StanfordW, 44-6UW up 30-0 w/ 1:00 left in 3rd
2017MontanaW, 63-7virtual shutout: TD was pick 6
2017at Oregon St.W, 42-7UW up 42-0 with 3:30 left
2017CalW, 38-7virtual shutout: TD was scoop & score
2017OregonW, 38-3none
2017Washington St.W, 41-14UW up 34-0 with under 10:00 left
2018North DakotaW, 45-3none
2018BYUW, 35-7UW fumbled up 35-0 with 2:00 left
2018at CalL, 10-12none, Cal TD was a pick 6
2018vs. UtahW, 10-3none
2019at Oregon St.W, 19-7virtual shutout: TD was a pick 6

To recap, in the last five years, the Husky defense has had:

  • one shutout and three virtual shutouts, where the only points the opponent scored in the entire game were against the UW offense.
  • 10 games where the Husky defense didn’t let the opponent score a touchdown at any point.
  • 17 games (out of 67! which is over 25%!) where the Huskies’ first-team defense kept the opponent out of the end zone.


Let’s create the same standard and apply it to games where the UW first-team defense allowed only one touchdown.

YearOpponentScoreOpposing touchdowns
2015Utah St.W, 31-17USU 4th qtr scoop & score TD
2015at USCW, 17-12one TD
2015Washington St.W, 45-10one TD
2016Oregon St.W, 41-17UW up 41-10 with 4:00 left
2016vs. ColoradoW, 41-10one TD
2017Fresno St.W, 48-16one TD
2017at ColoradoW, 37-10one TD
2017at Arizona St.L, 7-13one TD
2018at UtahW, 21-7one TD
2018ColoradoW, 27-13one TD
2018Oregon St.W, 42-23one TD allowed by 1st team
2019at BYUW, 45-19one TD allowed by 1st team
2019Washington St.W, 31-13one TD
2019vs. Boise St.W, 38-7one TD

So additionally, over the last five years, the Husky defense has had:

  • 11 more games where the Husky defense only allowed one touchdown at any point.
  • 14 more games where the first-team unit allowed only one touchdown.

The conclusions that we can draw out of this are that:

  • the Huskies have had four games over the last five years where the defense gave up zero points for the entire game.
  • in almost a third of the Huskies’ games over the last five years (21 of 67), Washington’s defense has allowed no more than one touchdown during the game.
  • in almost half the Huskies’ games over the last five years (31 of 67!), Washington’s first string D has given up either zero or one touchdown, with the Huskies going 29-2 in those games.


After being one of the worst teams in the nation in passing touchdowns allowed in 2014 (ranking 109th), the Husky secondary has consistently been the best in the nation at keeping opponents from passing into paydirt.

YearGamesTDs allowedAverageNational rank
201513110.8469th in FBS
201614130.929T-11th in FBS
201713100.769T-2nd in FBS
201814120.8575th in FBS
201913131.000T-9th in FBS
5-year totals67590.881Leads the FBS

Only 18 programs in college football have limited opponents to 80 touchdown passes or fewer over the last five years. The Huskies are far below that total, leading the nation with only 59 touchdown passes allowed over the last five seasons.

SchoolGames from
Passing TDs allowed
from 2015-2019
Passing TDs allowed
per game average
1. Washington67590.881
2. Michigan65600.923
3. Wisconsin68630.926
4. Appalachian State66640.970
5. Ohio State68681.000
6. Clemson74751.014
7. Penn State66691.045
8. Georgia69731.058
9. Alabama72771.069
10. Florida64711.109

Every program on this list is consistently competing for divisional and conference championships, if not CFP berths and national championships. Keeping opponents out of the end zone is the name of the game, and as college football continues air the football out more and more, teams that can defend paydirt from the pass are in prime position to compete at an extremely high level.

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS ALLOWED (of 40 yards or more)

Explosive plays are not an explicitly defined term in college football. Some schools count any running play of more than 10-12 yards as an explosive play, while passing plays generally need to be 18-20 yards to be considered explosive.

But for whatever reason, the Huskies have been phenomenal at not allowing the huge chunk plays to occur. Take a look at how Washington has faired with the rest of the nation on allowing plays of 40 yards or more.

YearGames40-yd plays
AverageNational rank
20151390.69220th in FBS
20161470.5005th in FBS
20171330.2311st in FBS
20181410.0711st in FBS
20191370.5389th in FBS
Last 3 years40110.275Leads the FBS
Last 4 years54180.333Leads the FBS
Last 5 years67270.403Leads the FBS

These numbers are staggeringly low compared to the rest of college football. Check out how far the UW sits ahead of the other programs that have limited explosives, particularly over the last three years, which is the Elijah Molden era.

SchoolGames from
40-yard plays
per game
1. Washington40110.275
2. Alabama42200.476
3. Notre Dame39200.513
4. Wyoming38210.553
5. Utah41260.634
6. Maryland36230.639
7. BYU39260.667
8. Michigan State39260.667
9. Georgia43290.674
10. South Carolina38260.684

Granted, this stat is not so much evidence that Washington is a great defense as it is explanatory of how the Huskies have been able to keep teams from scoring. Limiting explosive plays contributes greatly to increasing the odds that you’ll keep the opponent out of the end zone. But for Washington to have given about half as many explosive plays as the 2nd best defense against explosives in the nation is remarkable. By contrast, the worst defense against explosives in the Pac-12 was Oregon State, giving up 53 plays of 40+ yards in 36 games, an average of 1.472 per game. The worst team in the nation was New Mexico, allowing 70 in 36 games for an average of 1.944.

They’ve achieved this partly because the 2017 and 2018 Huskies were so uniquely, extraordinarily elite at not giving up the big play. In fact, of the five individual defenses in college football that were best at limiting explosives over the last decade, two were wearing purple and gold.

TeamGames40-yard plays
2018 Washington Huskies1410.071
2015 Missouri Tigers1220.167
2017 Washington Huskies1330.231
2019 Alabama Crimson Tide1330.231
2016 Georgia State Panthers1230.250

The evidence is overwhelming that Washington has consistently put out one of the best defenses in college football over the last half decade. Now that Jimmy Lake, one of the architects of that defense over the last several years, has taken over as head coach, it’ll be exciting to see if the UW can continue and even exceed its reputation for being elite on that side of the ball.

%d bloggers like this: