It's not time to panic over Washington defense — yet
Did you really think the Huskies would have a complete team two-and-a-half seasons removed from an 0-12 campaign? It's no great surprise that the Huskies have an unbalanced squad right now.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Arizona @ Washington, 7:30 p.m., ROOT Sports
You know Steve Sarkisian's M.O., and it doesn't stand for "maniacal overreaction."
So the Washington football coach, Mr. 24-Hour Rule, returned to his mild-mannered public persona Monday as he moved past an embarrassing 65-21 loss at Stanford on Saturday. Repercussions of the blowout? No, he didn't come to his Monday news conference toting Nick Holt's head. He didn't even alter the depth chart. Everything remains the same, including the mission: Get better.
"We have to understand where we're at," Sarkisian said. "We're a 5-2 football team still. We're 3-1 in our conference. And we've lost to two pretty dang good teams on the road."
But in those losses, the Huskies have had two pretty dang bad defensive performances. Nebraska dropped 51 on them. Stanford put up a basketball score. It's human nature to notice that in two games against ranked competition, the Huskies allowed an average of 58 points. It's human nature to be so bothered by the defense's problems that you ignore the big picture — the still-rebuilding Huskies are in a good place overall.
That's why Sark is calm, even as he ratchets up the sense of urgency. He isn't panicking, and he shouldn't be. He isn't looking down the road and predicting dire consequences, and he shouldn't be. He's enjoying the process, problems included. You should be, too.
Did you really think the Huskies would have a complete team two-and-a-half seasons removed from an 0-12 campaign? It's no great surprise that the Huskies have an unbalanced squad right now. And considering that Washington hired a former offensive coordinator who inherited a nice collection of young offensive talent, it's even less surprising that the offense is far ahead of the defense.
The concern is the severity of the problem. Through seven games, the Huskies rank near the bottom of the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision in several key defensive categories, including total defense (No. 101), scoring defense (No. 104), passing defense (No. 110) and tackles for loss (No. 107).
The Stanford game wasn't so much an indictment of the Huskies' rebuilding as it was a reminder that they still have a long way to go. The program isn't as healthy as it looks when the offense is scoring at will.
As much as you want to talk about coaching strategies and schemes, sometimes football can be as simple as this: If the other team manhandles you, you're at its mercy. Stanford pulverized the Huskies upfront. The Huskies were often in good positions to make plays, but they weren't strong enough to shed blocks and make tackles. And then the game got out of hand as the players lost confidence, and their fundamentals fell apart.
The Huskies have better defensive talent than this, and Holt should be culpable for the fact that, through seven games, they have worse defensive statistics than they did in their first two seasons with him calling the plays. But there are also six more games to play (assuming the Huskies qualify for a bowl) and improve those numbers, as well as the lasting impression of the 2011 Husky defense.
So, patience is necessary. That's quite difficult if you're emotionally attached to the results. But the Huskies are too much of a work in progress to make definitive judgments. Their defensive depth chart still has too many underclassmen on it. They have good defensive players, but they have yet to recruit impact defensive players on the level of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins or wide receiver Kasen Williams or running back Chris Polk.
"I think it's a work in progress," Sarkisian said when asked about the defensive talent. "In a perfect world, I wish Danny Shelton could really redshirt for us. I wish Alameda Ta'amu was a redshirt junior. I wish Semisi Tokolahi was a redshirt (sophomore). I wish Johnny Timu was redshirting right now. But we're in a situation where we're playing a lot of young guys."
Yes, the Huskies have an urgent need to improve. They have an offense that is almost BCS ready. The defense will stunt the program's growth if significant strides aren't made between now and the start of next season.
But panic now? No. The team, as a whole, is making too much progress. Rebuilding is an uneven process that requires multiple phases. A team can look pretty and, to borrow from Sark, pretty dang ugly at once.
The dang building isn't complete, however. In the pause between groans, keep that in mind.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
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