Huskies’ ‘Nasty’ O Line out to Prove They can out-tough Texas in CFP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Washington offensive tackle Troy Fautanu has heard all the snide remarks about West Coast football and how those pass-heavy offenses in the Pac-12 are not tough enough to win a national championship.
“We’re kind of used to slander,” Fautanu said Thursday.
The Huskies' biggest dawgs allowed only 11 sacks this season, paving the way for Michael Penix Jr. and No. 2 Washington to reach the College Football Playoff and earning the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in the country.
If there are still questions about the Huskies' line, Fautanu has a suggestion: “Turn on the tape.”
In the Sugar Bowl semifinal on Monday, Fautanu and company will get a chance to prove they can out-tough No. 3 Texas and a defensive line anchored by maybe the best set of tackles in the country in All-American T'Vondre Sweat and second-team All-American Byron Murphy II.
“It’s a great group of guys and we’ll face ’em Monday,” said the 362-pound Sweat, who seemed to tire of being asked about Washington’s award-winning O-line Thursday. “Everybody will get to see what we got and hopefully we’ll get our respect.”
It's a matchup that could swing the game.
“I think they’re very athletic. I think they’re smart. I think they’ve learned to be resourceful with some of the situations they’ve been put in,” Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said of his blockers. “And I think they’re still hungry. I think they still think they can play their best game yet.”
The guys who have kept Penix, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, upright and mostly unbothered became the nation's top offensive line with little fanfare.
Fautanu, a second-team All-American, is the only member of the starting five who would be projected right now as even a possible first-round NFL draft pick.
Fautanu, left guard Nate Kalepo, right tackle Roger Rosengarten and center Parker Brailsford have started every game, though Brailsford began the year at guard.
Offensive line coach Scott Huff slid the redshirt freshman inside after center Matteo Mele was lost for the season with a biceps injury in Game 2.
Julius Buelow and Geirean Hatchett have each made starts at right guard, with Buelow settling in atop the depth chart.
“We kind of just play like an offensive line was supposed to play. Chippy, nasty,” Fautanu said.
The Joe Moore Award has often — though not always — gone to teams with a couple of notable characteristics: Run-first offense and/or loaded with future high-round draft picks up front.
Michigan won it the previous two seasons. Alabama has won it twice since the award was first handed out in 2015. Iowa (2016), Notre Dame (2017), Oklahoma (2018) and LSU (2019) were the other winners.
Washington became the first Pac-12 team to win the Joe Moore, named for the late, great offensive line coach for Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
“They play like they got this giant chip on their shoulders. ... They're a group that finishes, they're a group that gives great effort on a very consistent basis. And I think the experience plays in because they just operate together,” said ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic, a former Auburn offensive lineman and who is also the chairman of the Joe Moore Award selection committee.
Cubelic said the Huskies' line stands out in a few ways. Their athleticism makes them excellent blocking in space.
“They look for contact. The look for physicality,” Cubelic said.
Washington's offense also asks a lot of its linemen in pass protection.
“They're one of the few teams that still runs just your basic man protection, your traditional pass protection,” Cubelic said.
Penix and Washington's array of talented receivers are second in the nation in completions of at least 30 yards and that starts up front.
“We have a lot of deep concepts in our offense. We were explosive in that way. So every time we were able to complete those things I know those guys were working their tails off to make sure Mike had enough time to create a great pocket and everything for them,” All-America receiver Rome Odunze said.
As defenses adjusted to take away Washington's long ball, Grubb countered with more running game. The line responded, helping Dillon Johnson rush for 1,113 yards and 14 touchdowns.
How does a quarterback show appreciation to the guys who keep his uniform clean?
Penix regularly takes his offensive line out to dinner and has gotten each of them flight vouchers for a free trip anywhere.
Most importantly, "Give them boys a big hug, tell them I love 'em,” Penix said.