Keith Washington Stands Tall and Rises To The Occasion
Morgantown, WV – Six-foot-three, six-foot-six, six-foot-four. No, those are not the heights of the first three starters on the Texas basketball team this year. Instead, that’s the kind of size that WVU cornerback Keith Washington was matched up with against the Longhorns. Taking on the big-bodied trio of Malcolm Epps, John Burt, and Brennan Eagles, the senior was a huge part of keeping the Texas offense in check throughout the day.
Standing just an even six feet and weighing in at 180 pounds, the Michigan transfer had his hands full all day but managed to make up for his size disadvantage and keep quarterback Sam Ehlinger from finding his deep threats down the field. On just his second throw of the day, Ehlinger looked for the 6’4″, 225 pound Eagles in the end zone but the smaller Washington fought his opponent the whole way, managing to step in front of the receiver as the ball came in, nearly forcing a turnover and picking up his first pass breakup of the game.
His play early set the tone for a WVU secondary that kept the prolific junior Ehlinger from connecting on any of his deep shots, forcing the Texas offense to rely on the short passing game and tailbacks Keontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson to move the ball in the first half.
Washington continued to lock down Eagles with another pass breakup coming against the talented sophomore late in the second quarter. Overall, the senior starter made his mark by the first intermission tallying two tackles and two PBU’s while Epps, Burt, and Eagles were held to a combined 44 combined yards, a key part of WVU trailing by just a single score after two quarters.
As the field flipped in the third, the defense was called upon to make some big stops and at the center of that effort was Keith Washington. With the Mountaineers down a score and looking for momentum after Austin Kendall’s second interception, Washington made a tremendous play on third and short to knock the ball away from Texas’ Devin Duvernay and force a punt that gave WVU the ball back with plenty of time left to tie the game. As the third quarter rolled on Washington continued to add to his stat line as he picked up his third tackle of the game while the Mountaineer defense forced the Longhorns off the field quickly on their first two drives of the second half.
Then, with Texas getting the ball back following a three and out from the Mountaineer offense, the ballhawk ability that Washington has proved to possess time and again appeared as he picked off Ehlinger on a deep ball intended for Burt, returning it all the way to the Texas 29 while a penalty against the Longhorns setting the Mountaineers up at the 14. Evan Staley would knock a field goal through the uprights a few plays later and WVU trailed by just four, all set up by the interception by Washington.
The strong play by Washington totally neutralized the size advantage that Texas attempted to leverage against the Mountaineer secondary. Despite giving up half a foot at times to the man he was covering, the transfer from Michigan was able to more than hold his own, breaking up three passes while also picking up three tackles in addition to his interception. As for the mismatch-creating Texas receivers, the three combined for only 50 yards on just six catches while being targeted 12 times throughout the game.
Neal Brown was very appreciative of Washington after the game, especially for the game-changing play he made in the third quarter.
“He had a huge play. Really a play that should have set us up to tie the game up.” Brown said in his postgame press conference, “Keith’s played well. In four out of the five games he’s played really well. Didn’t play his best against Kansas but I’m proud of how he’s competing and doing really well against some quality wideouts.”
Washington had tough matchups throughout the day but he seemed unfazed by them and he believes that is a credit to the fundamentals.
“You just have got to get into their body more.” Washington said about covering those bigger receivers, “Its no different than any other receiver, but you have just got to be a little more sound technique-wise because you can still have them covered and because of their size they’ll be able to make a play on you.”
After not even being a starter at the beginning of his first season in Morgantown a year ago, Keith Washington has emerged as one of the most consistent and important members of the WVU defense and the roster as a whole since he made his first start in Lubbock at Texas Tech last season. With young safeties behind him, Washington’s play at cornerback has been key to the success of a WVU pass defense ranked a surprising fortieth in the nation in passing yards allowed ahead of its matchup with Texas. If Washington can continue to team with Hakeem Bailey to lock up receivers down the field, the Mountaineer defense will have a good chance to rank among the Big 12’s best and allow WVU to stay in games against more talented teams throughout the remainder of the season.