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Originally published September 20, 2011 at 8:00 PM | Page modified September 20, 2011 at 10:34 PM

Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt says Huskies will improve

Nick Holt, Washington's defensive coordinator, says the Huskies will improve after allowing averages of 452 yards and 36.7 points in the first three games. "We need to play better. And we will," Holt said.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

California @ UW, 12:30 p.m., ROOT Sports

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On an afternoon when the temperature better resembled the lazy days of summer than the hustle and bustle of football season, Nick Holt faced the heat in more ways than one.

As he stood in the glistening sun for his regular weekly session with reporters, Washington's defensive coordinator promised that improvement is on the horizon.

"We need to get better," he said. "We need to play better. And we will."

And obviously no time like the present as the Huskies begin Pac-12 play with a 12:30 p.m. game Saturday against visiting California.

Washington finished nonconference play 2-1, a stretch in which questions have been raised about the defense, which is allowing a 36.7 points (107th out of 120 teams in the nation) and 452 yards (108th) per game.

Those numbers have brought also brought increasing criticism of Holt, who like the rest of Steve Sarkisian's staff, is in his third year at UW.

Sarkisian said Monday he has faith that Holt will find the answers. Holt returned the optimism on Tuesday.

"We are all in this together," he said. "We've won a lot of games together. He's got all the faith in the world in the defensive staff. We've got faith with all the other guys. So we've got to get better. There's no question about it."

And the most obvious place to look for immediate improvement might be the defensive line.

The line was expected to be the strength of the defense, with players with significant starting experience returning at every spot.

But Holt said Tuesday the line hasn't lived up to expectations.

"They've been the disappointment, to me," he said. "Really a disappointment so far. The first two games there were different issues and problems (due to the quick-passing offenses of Eastern Washington and Hawaii). But we didn't play as well as we need to for us to win last Saturday (at Nebraska), no question. There were some good things, but we didn't come with it and we have an older group and we didn't play as well as we need to."

Washington's starting defensive line Saturday included senior tackles Alameda Ta'amu and Everrette Thompson, who each shined when the Huskies beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last December, 19-7.

But the UW front was pushed around by a Cornhuskers offensive line that included three players who entered the program as walk-ons, one who got his first start against the Huskies.

The line's play didn't exactly earn plaudits in the Eastern and Hawaii games, either. But those performances were harder to assess due to the styles of Eastern's and Hawaii's offenses. The Nebraska game was another matter as the Cornhuskers feature more conventional plays.

"When we do have our chances our big guys have got to play well and we weren't consistent," Holt said.

There have also been issues at other areas.

But UW coaches pin a lot of those on youth, as the Huskies are replacing Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa at linebacker and have had some injuries in the secondary, forcing less-experienced players into action.

The line, however, has been healthy, and was an area the Huskies expected could pick up the slack for growing pains elsewhere.

Members of the line agree improvement is needed. Defensive end Hau'oli Jamora said the yardage totals the Huskies have allowed is "embarrassing."

And Thompson repeated a sentiment of the coaches that the players aren't exhibiting the reckless abandon needed to play well.

"We are just trying to get after the ball and be aggressive and stop thinking so much and just go play and have fun," Thompson said.

Sarkisian summed it up this way during the Pac-12 coaches conference call Tuesday: "I think one of the biggest things is we are not playing football with the tenacity and the relentlessness that's needed to really be a great defensive team. We are playing with some hesitation and not letting loose and letting go, afraid to make a mistake, and you can't play defense that way."

Holt also said "we need to find some playmakers, consistent playmakers."

That's an area where the Huskies miss Foster, now starting with Tampa Bay, and Aiyewa the most.

"Just look at the guys we had last year and all the statistics and look at this year and we are missing some of those guys," Holt said. "We'll get better, but we've got to get some better play out of our older guys."

Holt noted that UW's defense in his first two years tended to get better as the year wore on. That's a trend UW hoped it might be able to avoid this year, instead playing consistently well from the start. But it's a trend the Huskies cling to now.

"You've got to remember who we are playing with," Holt said. "There are some guys who have never played in a game at very important positions, and they are going to get better. And they already have gotten better."

Notes

• Backup linebacker Jordan Wallace and backup tight end Marlion Barnett have decided to transfer, Sarkisian said Tuesday. Holt said Wallace, the younger brother of former Huskies standout C.J. Wallace, wanted to go somewhere he would have a chance to play more. He had not played this season while also battling a knee injury. Barnett, a redshirt sophomore, started four games last year but was finding it harder to get on the field this season due to the arrival of freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the return from injury of redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson.

• Quarterback Keith Price, battling sprains to both knees, participated in Tuesday's practice.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Questions about the defense
The Huskies have allowed an average of 452 yards and 36.7 points in their first three games.
Opponent Result Rush yds Pass yds Total yds
Eastern Wash. W, 30-27 31 473 504
Hawaii W, 40-32 55 333 388
Nebraska L, 51-38 309 155 464

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