Washington should get defensive boost at Arizona

Posted: Updated:

SEATTLE (AP) -- Washington's defense seemed on the verge of being depleted but is about to get a bit of a reprieve.

The Huskies will get a boost in the form of defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha and linebacker Shaq Thompson when they travel to face No. 17 Arizona on Saturday. Washington (6-4, 2-4 Pac-12) has lost six straight on the road against the Arizona schools and hasn't beaten Arizona in Tucson since 2006.

"Can't tie in year-to-year, different teams," senior defensive lineman Evan Hudson said. "We've just had some bad luck down there. Trying to change that this week."

The big news from head coach Chris Petersen's weekly news conference Monday was that Kikaha should be able to play against the Wildcats. Kikaha, who leads the nation with 16 1/2 sacks and 22 1/2 tackles for loss this season, suffered a stinger during the first quarter of the Huskies' 44-30 loss to UCLA last week.

Kikaha practiced with the team Monday and Petersen said, "as long as he keeps progressing, I think we'll be OK."

Thompson will also be a defensive starter on Saturday. The two-way star has nearly made it a full-time switch to running back the last three weeks, taking over as the primary ball carrier. Petersen said the junior will start at linebacker this week, though, as the Huskies try to get their other running backs into a rhythm.

Thompson has been exceptional at linebacker this season and has scored four defensive touchdowns.

With both Kikaha and Thompson, who played sparingly at linebacker against UCLA, missing from the defense last Saturday, Petersen said there were obvious holes.

"I think Hau'oli not on that side and (Thompson) not on that side, things changed a little bit," Petersen said of UW's defense against the Bruins. "We're getting our running backs going a little bit, so we're maybe able to balance (Thompson) back over there a little bit more."

The welcome sight of Kikaha and Thompson will help the Huskies cope with the loss of top cornerback Marcus Peters. The junior is considered a first-round NFL pick by many, but was dismissed by the team last Thursday. Freshman Naijiel Hale started in his place, but it was John Ross III that took a number of snaps at the position and who will start against Arizona.

Ross has been one of Washington's biggest down-the-field threats offensively - although, the Huskies have had trouble getting him the ball lately - but practiced at cornerback the week leading up to the UCLA game. It's similar to a switch he made last year when the team had a need for depth in the secondary.

"I think we'd like to see what he can do over there at the corner position," Petersen said of Ross, who also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against UCLA. "It's hard to really split reps, especially when a guy's new and young to a position."

Ross' playmaking ability makes him another potential two-way star, but Petersen said he'd like to stick with him on the defensive side, for now.