Time for Nick Holt to take some chances with Huskies' defense
Washington's defense is too passive, and Nick Holt has to stop the bleeding.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Arizona @ UW, 7:30 p.m., ROOT Sports
Nick Holt isn't upholding his end of a very sweet bargain. Washington's defense isn't getting better, either individually or collectively.
After 2 ½ seasons, Washington still is getting steamrolled at the line of scrimmage. After 2 ½ seasons, it still is getting surprised by trickery early in games.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian cajoled, begged and pleaded with his good friend Holt to join him at Washington. He convinced the university that it was worth paying Holt more than $2 million over three seasons to steal him away from USC and make him defensive coordinator.
Sarkisian wanted Holt because he didn't want to worry about the defense. Didn't want to answer a string of questions at every Monday news conference. The defense, he believed, would be in good hands. Holt, he knew, was a good defensive coach.
But in his third season, Holt's defense still appears to be caught in some purgatory between the past and the future. His defense hasn't grown as quickly as Sarkisian's offense.
Statistically, the Huskies of 2011 are no better than the Huskies of 2009. The fans know the numbers. The defense ranks close to the bottom in all of the important NCAA categories like points allowed, and passing yardage surrendered.
And maybe the most discouraging part of Saturday's humbling 65-21 loss to Stanford was that Washington got beat by basic, simple football. The Huskies were dominated again.
Stanford ran power off tackle and counter runs off guard. This is the basic essence of offense.
The Cardinal has a future Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Andrew Luck, but watching Saturday's blowout, you got the feeling that the backup quarterback from East Stroudsburg could have run this offense.
Repeatedly, Washington got blown off the ball, and Holt never found a way to stop the onslaught.
In his first three seasons, Holt hasn't been able to make in-game adjustments to prevent these types of blowouts. He hasn't been able to stop the bleeding in routs like the past two games with Stanford, the two regular-season losses to Nebraska and defeats last season to Arizona and Arizona State.
In Holt's defense, Washington still is undermanned. The defensive ends are undersized. The linebackers are undersized. And a team as good, as strong and as physical as Stanford still can line up against Washington and pound that defense like a great fighter throwing 12 rounds of unstoppable, pile-driving jabs.
But Holt can't surrender in these games. And that's been his mistake. He has to find ways to stay competitive when the games look most bleak. He has to show a willingness to take more chances. His defensive schemes are too passive. They need to be more aggressive.
That doesn't mean he should turn every game into a blitz-fest, but he should play more bump-and-run with his corners. Defensive players like to feel as if they are playing the game downhill, but in Holt's schemes there is too much free access given to receivers running their routes.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant, for instance, should have his hands all over receivers, making it harder for them to move through the secondary.
Holt should put more guys closer to the line of scrimmage. His smallish linebackers need to be more aggressive.
Firing Holt isn't the answer and, trust me, it's not going to happen. Sarkisian isn't going to quit on his friend. Holt is signed through 2012. He's making $650,000 and the university isn't about to eat the last year of his deal.
Holt shouldn't be fired. I think he's a good football coach. His history at USC says he's a good football coach. His colleagues across the country say he's a good football coach.
His team is young. Players like defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Sione Potoa'e, defensive end Josh Shirley and linebacker John Timu still are developing physically.
Holt needs a couple of more good recruiting classes. He needs more resources.
But in the meantime, he has to be bolder and more creative. He has to make this team believe it can play with anybody. He can't just let it get run over as it did again Saturday night. He can't let it get embarrassed and demoralized again in prime time.
Nick Holt is a good football coach, but halfway through his third season at Washington, even he has to get better.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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