The Washington Huskies opened their 2012 football season by employing an innovative technique.
As it turns out, it’s legal.
Because you haven’t seen many of these in the past decade at UW games, it’s when a defensive player physically restrains an opposing ballcarrier, or otherwise halts his forward progress.
Those who watched UW score a 21-12 victory over San Diego State on Saturday at CenturyLink Field could have expected quarterback Keith Price to be efficient and exciting, and Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to create matchup nightmares.
But the news, finally, is that the Huskies choked off a high-quality offensive opponent.
Their first score of the season was set up by an interception by Tre Watson. In the third quarter, Princeton Fuimaono and Talia Crichton combined on a fumble-forcing hit that led to Will Shamberger’s 44-yard touchdown return.
Freshman Travis Feeney then added a fumble-forcing sack of Ryan Katz.
They swarmed to the ball, arrived with considerable force, and didn’t let go once they took hold. These are new and intriguing concepts.
Remember, the Aztecs were the No. 32-rated offense in the country last season, picking up 427 yards a game.
If you might be sickened at the memory, you might wish to skip a few paragraphs as we recap last season’s defensive inadequacies when the Huskies were the 106th-rated defense (of 120) and surrendered 36 points a game.
The last time they were on the field, against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, they gave up 67 points. The nightmare led to the ousting of the defensive staff (although they’re collecting $1.8 million this season for agreeing to go away).
The convenient whipping boy was defensive coordinator Nick Holt, the architect and curator of the dismal unit.
Coach Steve Sarkisian and UW retooled the staff on that side of the ball, for some $2 million in salary, with Justin Wilcox (formerly at Tennessee) taking over as new coordinator.
The early returns on the investment are positive. In just the first half, the Huskies notched a pair of sacks and three rushing tackles-for-losses, while holding SDSU to 121 total yards.
There’s still work to do. The Huskies looked a little soft up the middle at times, being gashed by interior runs.
And they were totally tricked on a 47-yard touchdown pass when Aztecs wide receiver Tim Vizzi lurked near the sideline when the offense took the field for the start of the second quarter. With no Huskies defender seeing him, it made for an easy completion.
Somehow, surely, Holt was responsible for the oversight.
Here’s how the new Huskies shaped up on defense.
Sophomore Josh Shirley, who is basically a rush-linebacker, showed the kind of quickness at the edge he flashed since showing up from UCLA. He’s a speed guy who can finish and disrupt.
Senior corner Desmond Trufant has given up some big plays in the past but is a gifted cover guy, and came up with a sack on an early corner blitz.
Highly touted freshman safety Shaq Thompson, at 6-foot-2, 215, is only 18 but is a grown man. In fact, on the hoof, he looks a lot like former Huskies safety Tommie Smith (early ’90s). And that’s a very good thing to consider.
If the performance against SDSU can be taken as an indicator, Price and the offense will make this an entertaining team. But a turnover-creating defense will make it a team that wins games.
To look back one year is to be reminded of a game against Eastern Washington that the Huskies barely won (30-27) because they could not stop the Eagles’ passing attack. It set the tone for the entire season.
Saturday night’s solid defensive effort could likewise establish a tone for this season … one of toughness and opportunistic firstname.lastname@example.org