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Originally published October 22, 2011 at 10:38 PM | Page modified October 23, 2011 at 7:57 PM

Jerry Brewer

This defense will keep Huskies a second-tier team

Stanford rolls up 615 yards on Huskies

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Finally, someone in the Seattle media calling out Holt for what he is: a terrible D cor... Read more
quotes 446 yards rushing from a team that has the best QB in college football. 13 plus yards... Read more
quotes The Huskies did about what I thought they would offensively; if Folk's FG hadn't hit... Read more

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STANFORD, Calif. — The gap is as wide as the holes Stanford running backs sauntered through repeatedly Saturday night.

Washington, with its gaudy offense and spongy defense, is a good football team, very good at times, better than it showed in this game. But Stanford is great, and if the Huskies want to dance with great, they need to get all of their limbs moving in rhythm.

Needless to say, it didn't happen on this night at Stanford Stadium. The Huskies are one of the best partially renovated teams in college football; the Cardinal has a complete palace. And the difference between the two was stunning: Stanford 65, Washington 21.

There are painful experiences, and then there is the feeling that a bus keeps hitting you over and over again. The Huskies were pounded so badly that you forgot this was a matchup of Top 25 teams.

What can the Huskies say about this one? There is no defense.

No defense. Exactly.

Just when you thought the much-maligned defense was showing signs of improvement, Stanford knocked the Huskies and defensive coordinator Nick Holt back down to humiliation. The Cardinal gained a school-record 446 rushing yards. Overall, the Huskies gave up 615 total yards.

Not since Kent Baer disgraced the sidelines has Washington seen a defensive effort so porous. Of course, Baer's run as defensive coordinator ended just four years ago. So, unfortunately, you know bad defense when you see it. And this was almost as awful as it gets.

The Cardinal scored on its first eight possessions. It averaged 9.3 yards per play. On run plays, that number rose to 10.1 yards. For the game, Stanford had seven run plays of at least 20 yards.

Over 2 ½ seasons, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has done an outstanding job of rebuilding the program. The rise from 0-12 to a bowl game in two years was incredible. The growth from an 11th-hour bowl qualifier to a No. 24 national ranking last week was another solid step. But the truth is that the Huskies are about to hit a wall — unless their defense improves dramatically.

They can be a consistent bowl team and a second-tier Pac-12 squad with an offense-centric approach. But they'll always be several touchdowns worse than the elite squads without a better defense.

What's the problem? It's a combination of things. For one, it takes time to build a complete team. But the Huskies have enough defensive talent to be better than this. And so Holt must shoulder significant blame.

Holt gave a one-minute monologue after the game, took one question and left. His explanation for the poor performance was simple: The Huskies still aren't strong enough up front. That's why Stanford ran the ball at will.

"They keep pounding you and pounding you, and we are not there yet physically in our program with our guys with just staying toe-to-toe consistently," Holt said.

It's true that is the biggest issue, but it's also true that the Huskies spent most of the preseason praising their defensive line and expecting that unit to be the strength of the defense. In reality, the D-line has played too inconsistent.

The problem is bigger than that, though. When was the last time the Huskies took away the strength of a good team's offense? They're almost always at the mercy of the opponent. If you can run the football well, you generally run it well against Washington. If you like to throw it, you generally throw the ball well against Washington.

The Huskies are only good at surviving. It means that, despite this lackluster performance, they'll be back. This team won't fall apart.

"We've been here before," cornerback Desmond Trufant said, referring to having to bounce back from a blowout loss.

Of course, some might call that going in circles.

"A lot of people weren't doing their assignments," defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu said afterward. "People were trying to do too much."

Doing too much added up to showing too little.

Sarkisian took the grand approach afterward, reminding reporters that the Huskies weren't great in any phase of the game Saturday. The offense wasn't sharp. On special teams, Kevin Smith fumbled on a kickoff return.

But the Huskies gained 321 yards in the first half — and still trailed by 24 points. Their offense isn't flawless. They can't expect to score on every drive.

Asked how tough it is to swallow that his team allowed 446 rushing yards, Sarkisian said: "I don't think I've swallowed it yet, quite honestly."

There's no need to swallow. Stanford rammed the lesson down the Huskies' throats.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

Sark against ranked opponents
The Huskies fell to 5-8 in games against ranked opponents since Steve Sarkisian took over as head coach.
Date Opponent Score
Oct. 22, 2011 at No. 7 Stanford L, 65-21
Sept. 17, 20011 at No. 11 Nebraska L, 51-38
Dec. 30, 2010 vs. No. 18 Nebraska* W, 19-7
Nov. 7, 2010 at No. 1 Oregon L, 53-16
Oct. 30, 2010 vs. No. 13 Stanford L, 41-0
Oct. 23, 2010 at No. 15 Arizona L, 44-14
Oct. 16, 2010 vs. No. 24 Oregon State W, 35-34 (2OT)
Oct. 2, 2010 at No. 18 USC W, 32-31
Sept. 18, 2010 vs. No. 8 Nebraska L, 56-21
Dec. 5, 2009 vs. No. 19 California W, 42-10
Oct. 24, 2009 vs. No. 12 Oregon L, 43-19
Sept. 19, 2009 vs. No. 3 USC W, 16-13
Sept. 5, 2009 vs. No. 11 LSU L, 31-23
*Holiday Bowl

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