The sight of Joe McKnight out of uniform – his chiseled torso connected to hefty, churning, quick-twitching legs – is enough to make even the most veteran linebacker jittery.
Imagine what it’s like, as a recently appointed free safety, seeing the bust-a-juke tailback in full Southern California regalia, ready to take on all-comers?
Justin Glenn did.
Now McKnight isn’t Gale Sayers, Walter Payton or Barry Sanders – not yet, anyway – but his reputation as one of college football’s most elusive weapons is well-founded. It was a fact Glenn, a Washington Huskies redshirt freshman, was well aware of.
And so, very early Saturday – on the first play of USC’s second drive – Glenn found himself in the precarious position of trying to put the clamps on McKnight in the open field.
McKnight had already barreled past a couple of UW defenders, and was on his way to the end zone, with one man to beat – Glenn.
“My eyes got huge,” Glenn said.
But his feet kept moving, and 25 yards into the rumble, McKnight went to the turf at Husky Stadium, with Glenn on top of him.
And after a while, it wasn’t just McKnight. Glenn stopped fullback Stanley Havili from scoring after a big run. And he made sure receiver Damian Williams didn’t get very far, either. Glenn finished with seven tackles, second-best on the team.
“As you saw last Saturday, there were a bunch of plays where (Glenn) was all by himself, and he made some huge big-field tackles,” UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “It wasn’t pretty, but he got the guy down.”
After a couple of weeks of rotating players in and out – beginning with Greg Walker as the starter opening day against Louisiana State – the Huskies have found a reliable solution in the last line of defense: Glenn.
“To think he’s only heading into his third week of practice at the free safety spot – and last week, his second game ever playing back there – it’s huge,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I know the guys running at him (from USC), those aren’t easy guys to tackle. He made some great tackles that really helped change the scope of the game.”
Glenn came in from Kamiak High School as a cornerback. With his athleticism and coverage skills, he was in line to see serious playing time opposite Quinton Richardson.
But during fall camp, Glenn quickly established himself as one of the team’s surest tacklers, especially in space. That gave coaches reason to consider moving him to free safety.
“Then he got hurt, and we kind of got stuck,” Sarkisian said. “We didn’t know which way to go once he got back.”
The decision was aided by what unfolded in the LSU game. Receiver Terrance Toliver scored on two long scoring passes, both on plays where defensive backs missed tackles.
The next week, Glenn was moved. And by the Idaho game, he was starting.
“The main difference between this and cornerback, when it’s man-to-man at cornerback, it’s a lot more pressure,” Glenn said. “At free safety, there is not as much pressure, and you have the freedom to make more plays.”
Most importantly, he knows what it’s like being left on an “island” defending a receiver when nobody else is around. He’s taken that mentality to his new position.
“He’s done a good job playing in the middle of the field,” Holt said. “He has cornerback skills, he can redirect and he can tackle people. He’s made a world of difference.”
No longer is the position up for audition, or a rotation of players. In a short amount of time, Glenn has solidified that area of the secondary.
“I’m getting comfortable at safety, and I feel like I’m going to get better and better the next couple years,” Glenn said.
In a half-hour span, four UW players – including three receivers – went down with injuries. They include receivers Devin Aguilar (left knee), James Johnson (right shoulder) and D’Andre Goodwin (unknown), and linebacker Donald Butler (leg). Sarkisian said he thought none of the injuries was serious. … After watching cornerback Desmond Trufant, from Wilson High, work out with the No. 1 defense the past two days, Sarkisian made it official – the true freshman from Tacoma is a starter. “He’s kind of assuming himself in there,” the first-year coach said. Vonzell McDowell Jr. will be the backup. … Trufant isn’t the only new starter. Defensive end Talia Crichton, also a true freshman from Lakewood, Calif., has taken Darrion Jones’ spot. … Linebacker Brandon Huppert (knee), who was injured on a special teams play late in the USC game, is out for the season. He will have surgery this week. … The Huskies are not playing music this week during in practice, in an effort to simulate the “quietness” of Stanford Stadium, site of the game Saturday.
Todd Milles: 253-59-78442