Huskies' biggest linebacker makes push for bigger role
Junior Thomas Tutogi got pressed into more duty than expected at LSU and recorded a game-high 12 tackles against the physical Tigers.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Portland State @ UW, 1 p.m., FX
Through the hail of Tiger points on the scoreboard and the sea of LSU purple and gold in the stands, it wasn't easy to see bright spots for the Washington Huskies on Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
But one who managed to peek through the cracks was the play of reserve linebacker Thomas Tutogi, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles.
The game marked the first significant playing time for the junior, who was a heralded recruit as a junior-college signee for the Class of 2011.
Coaches had envisioned more of a role for Tutogi — UW's biggest linebacker at 6 feet 1 and 242 pounds — against an LSU team known for its physical running game. An injury to linebacker Travis Feeney created even more of a need for Tutogi against the Tigers.
The 12 tackles were more than half his combined career total of 20 coming into the game. He also recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff that led to UW's only points.
"Thomas did some good things," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. "He played physical, which we needed him to do. He got aligned right for the most part, which was good for him, and he finished some tackles and that was good to see."
The tackle total has led fans to wonder if Tutogi shouldn't be playing more, and maybe even starting. Wilcox said Tutogi opened some eyes but cautioned that LSU's style and UW's scheme for the game was a good fit for Tutogi's talents.
"Thomas, to be honest, had been a little inconsistent in practice, and what we have to go on is practice," Wilcox said. "He got in and did some good things. He wasn't perfect, but he got around the ball, which is obviously a good thing, and I think he definitely played better. He was around the ball and did a decent job. Against bigger teams, that's his type of role."
Tutogi said that if there's an area of his game that needs work, it's defending the pass.
"I think I need to work on my pass coverages and drops," he said. "That's something I can work on, definitely. ... A lot of people who look at me think 'downhill, run-stuffing linebacker.' And I like that. I don't deny that. I'll take that."
The Huskies will need a lot of that when they play some of the other power running teams on their schedule this season, including two of the next four opponents, Stanford (Sept. 27) and USC (Oct. 13).
But Tutogi also hopes he has begun to show that he can be counted on in any situation.
A native of Chula Vista, Calif., he attended Southwestern JC for a year before signing with UW. And like many junior-college transfers, he found the transition to the Pac-12 eye-opening a year ago, particularly the speed of the game, which was more of a challenge when he topped 250 pounds.
He's dropped 10 or so pounds since, which he says has allowed him to get up to speed more easily.
"I feel like I'm more mobile and get off blockers easier," he said.
Tutogi remains listed behind John Timu at middle linebacker for Saturday's game against Portland State at 1 p.m. at CenturyLink Field. But UW also has packages in which the two are on the field together, with Timu sliding over to an outside linebacker spot.
Tanigawa sits out
Sarkisian does not meet with the media on Tuesday, so there was no official explanation for why starting guard Colin Tanigawa did not practice when the team worked out in the early afternoon. Tanigawa was listed as the starter on the depth chart for this week's game, but was not in pads Tuesday.
Tanigawa missed the last two games of the 2011 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee. He had his right knee in a sleeve for Tuesday's practice.
Sarkisian gave a hint that something might be up with Tanigawa when he said on his radio show Monday night that the only two guarantees he could make for the offensive line this week were that Drew Schaefer would start at center and Micah Hatchie at left tackle.
If Tanigawa is seriously injured, it would be another big blow to an offensive line already left reeling. UW will be also without Erik Kohler, who started at guard the first week before moving to tackle against LSU to help fill the void for the loss of starting right tackle Ben Riva. Kohler reinjured his kneecap (though it's still unclear how long he will be out). Riva is out another month or so with a broken forearm suffered against San Diego State.
If Tanigawa is out, UW could go into Saturday's game with just one offensive lineman — Schaefer — who started a year ago.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @bcondotta