Even as University of Washington football players nearby hopped around and exchanged high-fives, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox stood still knowing the reality.
Nearly five months after being torched for 777 yards and 67 points by Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, the Huskies were back on the field playing defense for four full quarters – albeit in a modified spring game Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
The results were considerably better: Combined, UW’s No. 1 and No. 2 defenses prevented their respective offenses from scoring on 12 of 14 drives (not including the final drive, which ended as time expired). All of that added up to a 36-10 win for the defenses in front of 11,802 spectators.
For each time the defense stopped the offense on a drive, it was awarded three points – a format UW coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff devised this week.
“I really wished we could have played a game. People can connect to it and relate to it better,” Sarkisian said. “We just couldn’t do it, so we tried to come up with a formula that could be competitive.
“The defense won on the field, and ultimately they won on the scoreboard.”
Make no mistake, that 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss in late December wounded the defense’s pride. Days later, defensive coordinator Nick Holt was fired. Shortly after, Wilcox was hired from Tennessee to change the culture of the UW defense.
Tackling and mental breakdowns were immediately identified by Wilcox as chief issues. But above all, he said, was getting this defense to establish a rock-solid identity.
“First thing, we wanted to develop … who we are, not only schematically installing a new defense, but what we are about,” Wilcox said. “When people turn on the TV, what do they say about that (defense) on the field?”
Wilcox had a few reasons to be excited:
• The starting defense got after quarterback Keith Price at will. The Huskies started with a three-and-out – and their only first-half points (a 37-yard Erik Nothstein field goal) were set up by a gadget play when running back Jesse Callier completed a 17-yard pass to Price.
“The defense got after us pretty good,” Price said.
• In the first half, UW receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins – weapons expected to heavily contribute in 2012 – were held to no catches.
In fact, the one time Price delivered to Seferian-Jenkins in the end zone, linebacker Nate Fellner was there to dislodge the pass from his grasp on third down.
“We go against these guys every day, so it is definitely harder for them to even get completions because we kind of know what they are going to do.” UW cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “Not to take anything away from us, we worked hard. It is a great scheme, and we are out here making plays.”
• The defense collected seven sacks. Andrew Hudson had both sacks against Price – including a crucial stop in the third quarter when the junior quarterback had the offense in the red zone.
As Price tried to escape to his left, Hudson pursued, reached out and appeared to grab nothing but air. But the officiating crew whistled Price down, which drew protests from a few of the offensive players.
“I was right there, I was right there,” Hudson said with a big grin. “I deserved it.”
Both in the passing game, and at the line of scrimmage – the defense handily dictated the action, Sarkisian said.
“Good defenses with those one-on-one battles, and we showed that today,” Sarkisian said. “It wasn’t just one guy, it was a variety of guys.”
Wilcox also had a few reasons to temper his excitement:
• Both offensive lines were beaten up. Starting center Drew Schaefer (knee) did not play after the first series.
• By design, Sarkisian did not install an elaborate offensive scheme to attack the defense.
• Price ultimately warmed up in the second half, directing a 10-play, 71-yard drive in the third quarter – capped by his 23-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jonathan Amosa, who ran freely most of the way.
“I would not read too much into (the score) – we were pretty vanilla,” Wilcox said. “That is kind of what you do in some of these spring games. But you still want to go out and execute at a high level. I am not sure we did that all the time. I am sure the offense felt like they left a few plays out there on the field.
“I thought we did a good job, at times, of matching the people up in our routes, and in some of our zone coverages.”
Trufant echoed the same sentiment about not getting carried away about one spring scrimmage. Still, with spring-game bragging rights in hand, he also said he might issue a couple of barbs toward offensive teammates.
“There might be a couple of words,” Trufant said. “This was fun.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8442 blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports Twitter: @ManyHatsMilles