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Originally published Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Huskies' Alameda Ta'amu gets a big helping hand up front

With a cast off his broken hand and Semisi Tokolahi back at defensive tackle, Huskies nose tackle was a major force on defense.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Oct. 15

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

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Alameda Ta'amu finally felt like his old self again Saturday in Utah.

And that went a long way toward giving the Huskies the kind of play out of the defensive front they envisioned before the season as Washington beat Utah 31-14. Playing with his cast off and his security blanket back, Ta'amu helped UW hold the Utes to 17 yards rushing — the fewest of Steve Sarkisian's era.

Asked Tuesday why his team was so ineffective running, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham pointed straight at the defensive line.

"We couldn't get any movement on the line of scrimmage, that's the thing that we could not do," he said. "They played very well on the front seven."

Whittingham called UW "very sturdy up front, particularly inside. The Ta'amu kid and the other guy who was in there with him, they are good, good players and they play hard."

The "other guy" was junior defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who had played sparingly this season until Saturday while recovering from a dislocated and broken ankle suffered in the Apple Cup in December.

The 6-foot-2, 334-pound Tokolahi started three games last season, all UW wins — UCLA, California and Washington State. That was no coincidence.

He also formed an on-field bond with Ta'amu to go along with a close off-field friendship.

"I think Alameda feels real comfortable with Semisi around," said UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

Ta'amu doesn't dispute that. He said the biggest reason for his improvement Saturday was having Semisi back.

"That brings me a lot more confidence and trust and made me understand that there is somebody next to me that will clog up holes," Ta'amu said. "He's not young and he understands the game."

Ta'amu entered the season with high expectations. He was named to several preseason All-Pac-12 teams and tabbed by some as a potential first-round NFL draft pick next spring.

But a broken bone in his right hand suffered midway through fall camp forced him to wear a cast for the first few games.

"Our rule on the team is 'no excuses,' " Ta'amu said. "But in my head every time I would mess up I would look at my hand. Is it my hand's fault?"

Ta'amu says his hand is 100 percent now. "I can grab much harder," he said.

Getting Tokolahi back — Ta'amu plays nose tackle and Tokolahi a "three-technique" defensive tackle — was the final piece to the puzzle.

"I see him being more productive and more of a factor," Holt said of Ta'amu's play the past two games. "When he's on, he's very, very, very tough to block."

Tokolahi, a junior, played about 30 plays against Utah and says he's still not quite 100 percent.

Tokolahi and Ta'amu grew close during Tokolahi's first year at UW in 2009, when Sarkisian's staff took over and put each on a similar conditioning program. Each weighed more than 350 pounds.

Now they're listed at a combined 667. But Tokolahi is more than just another huge body up front.

"Me and 'Meda, we've been through a lot since my freshman year, coming in early to workouts, doing extra conditioning," Tokolahi said of Ta'amu. "So we had that natural bond."

Ta'amu, who has been consistently double-teamed, could feel the difference at Utah.

"He will beat the one-on-one blocks that he is going against, and when they notice that they have to worry about two big boys in the middle, that would allow me to play more free," he said. "A guy would slide off me to go get Semisi."

NOTE

• The Huskies will practice Wednesday and then take the rest of the week off. The players will rest for a few days while coaches travel for recruiting. UW next plays against Colorado at Husky Stadium at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 15.

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

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