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Originally published Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 7:26 PM

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UW defense gets a different task in Apple Cup: Stop the pass

A Washington defense that was the movable object most of the season has suddenly become the resistant force. After allowing 138 points during...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A Washington defense that was the movable object most of the season has suddenly become the resistant force.

After allowing 138 points during a three-game losing streak that threatened to sink the season, the Huskies have allowed just 20in the past two — and just one offensive touchdown, none in the last seven quarters.

In the process, UW has risen from 110th in the nation in total defense (allowing 440 yards per game) to 85th (allowing 400.55), and from 71st in pass defense to 31st (and leading the Pac-10 in fewest passing yards allowed in conference games only).

"Our kids are playing fast, they are playing confident," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian.

Some might also point out that they have been playing against backup quarterbacks — or in the case of UCLA, third- and fourth-stringers — that limited what their opponents could do.

"They played very strong defense in each of their last two games against us and against Cal," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said Tuesday. "They tackled well. They didn't do anything flamboyant, but they just played very stout defense and played a great field-position game. In our game, we lost our QB and against Cal they were playing against a backup QB and they took advantage of that and made sure they stopped the running game and did a good job."

That won't be the case this week, as Washington State starter Jeff Tuel is not only healthy but also was playing some of the best football of his career before WSU's two-week bye, running for 79 yards and completing 10 of 15 well-timed passes for 157 yards in a 31-14 win over Oregon State on Nov. 13.

WSU also features two of the top eight receivers in the Pac-10 in Jared Karstetter (54 receptions) and true freshman Marquess Wilson (second in the conference in yards per game at 88).

"It's the old Washington State stuff when they spread you out with their spread passing game," said UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt. "The quarterback is a good football player and the wideouts catch the ball well, so it'll be taxing in that sense because they spread you out."

Asked to pinpoint what has improved the last few weeks, UW players and coaches point mostly to being more comfortable in the schemes and playing better fundamentally, specifically tackling.

UW has gone largely with a base 4-3 the last two games, and against Cal rarely rotated personnel.

"They simplified the game plan," said linebacker Cort Dennison. "We really don't run very many calls, which during the week makes everything easier because when you only have to think about one type of defense it allows you to play faster. So the coaches have done a great job of just letting us play."

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The Huskies also have continued with some more intense tackling drills throughout practice, which were instituted after some problems earlier in the year, specifically against Nebraska.

"During the scout-team periods toward the beginning of the year, we would just wrap up and let them (the offensive players) go," Dennison said. "The scout-team sessions we have now are a lot more physical. They are pretty much like scrimmages, where we are bringing them down to the ground. It takes its toll on your body, but obviously it's worth it because the defense is improving."

NOTES

• LT Senio Kelemete, who suffered a sprained ankle against Cal, was in uniform but didn't take part in team drills. Erik Kohler continued to practice as the starter in his place.

• S Sean Parker, out the last two games with a stinger, was in red (no contact) but practiced and could be cleared to play.

• CB Quinton Richardson, asked about Tuel's comment that he stopped drinking purple Gatorade, said, "I love all Gatorade. I don't discriminate." But asked if he hates the Cougars, he said: "You know when I signed my letter of intent to come here it stated below that you are not allowed to like Cougs, so it comes with the territory."

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