Washington will start a new safety Saturday night.
Junior Brandon McKinney is set to replace true freshman Cameron Williams against Arizona, a source close Williams confirmed to The Times this week. The 6-foot, 201-pound McKinney — who made his first career start in last season’s Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State — has made four tackles with a forced fumble in six games this season.
Williams, who started the first six games for UW, has made big plays — and mistakes — in the first half of his freshman season. The 6-0, 191-pound former high-school quarterback leads the Huskies with three interceptions but has also surrendered long touchdowns in back-to-back games.
In a 28-14 win over USC on Sept. 28, Williams bit on play-action and allowed wide receiver Michael Pittman to coast past him for a 44-yard touchdown. There was a similar breakdown in the 23-13 loss to Stanford last weekend as Cardinal wideout Simi Fehoko bolted untouched down the sideline for a 42-yard score.
“The safety didn’t get over,” UW coach Chris Petersen said Monday when asked about the play. “It’s a hard way to give up a touchdown for us. Easy way for them.”
As for the safety situation against Arizona, Petersen said Monday that “we’ll rotate guys.” Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake added later in the week that “we’ve got a number of things that we can do. We have a number of players that are itching to play and have earned the right to go get some snaps. We’ll see how that goes as we move forward.”
The plan is to move forward with McKinney — for now.
Regardless, the Huskies will need to showcase improved secondary play against Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate. The standout senior threw for 404 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, completing 75.6% of his passes, in last weekend’s 35-30 win at Colorado. Arizona ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (37.2 points per game), passing offense (318.2 yards per game) and yards per attempt (9.1).
On the road, against a 4-1 opponent, the UW defense can’t afford more coverage busts.
“You have to fix it in practice,” Lake said of the long touchdown passes. “Very unfortunate. We’re not used to having that around here. So we’ve got to change that, and that’s on me first. All those types of things are all on me, and we’ve got to get it corrected.”