For Huskies fans, games like the one Saturday night in Tucson, Ariz., were supposed to be a thing of the all-too-frustrating past.
With a revamped defensive coaching staff, led by coordinator Justin Wilcox, the much maligned Washington defense had seemed to quell doubters with better than expected play in its first six games.
Of all that has gone wrong in UW’s season, the defense seemed to be the least of the problems. In the Huskies’ three wins, and even in a few defeats, the defense was more than credible and often seemed to be a strength.
But then came the disappointment in the desert. The Arizona Wildcats made the new-look Washington defense look a lot like last year’s version in a 52-17 loss.
“It was obviously a disappointing game in a lot of areas,” Wilcox said. “We didn’t finish very many plays and we gave up some runs and passes because of either eye discipline or not making tackles. Our alignment and assignment was good, for the most part. It was the execution that was very disappointing.”
And the first finger of blame Wilcox pointed was directly at himself.
“I’ve got to do a better job of preparing us,” he said bluntly. “Each one of us –coaches and players – need to look in the mirror and make sure we’re doing everything we can possibly do during the week and on game day to make sure we have our best chance to win.”
Arizona rolled up 533 yards of total offense, averaged 18.3 yards per pass completion and 5.7 yards per rush.
What went wrong?
“We missed 19 tackles in that game, which is by far the most this season,” Wilcox said. “When you do that, no matter what front coverage you play, it’s going to be hard to stop anybody.”
And there were a few blown coverages that led directly to touchdown passes by Arizona’s Matt Scott.
“It was more just self-inflicted wounds,” UW safety Sean Parker said. “We worked all day in practice about it. Everything that happened in the game, we had seen it before. It was just frustrating because we shot ourselves in the foot. It was nothing they did.”
Of the Huskies’ seven games this season, the defensive issues and mistakes against Arizona were most similar to those that occurred in the 52-21 loss at Oregon. Both games were played on the road, and both came against up-tempo, spread-option teams.
“It’s shown up in two games where teams have put us in one-on-one situations,” Wilcox said. “When we get in one-on-ones, some of the pressure is going to be on somebody.”
It’s the whole philosophy behind the spread option: put defenders in one-on-one situations where they have to make a play. If they don’t, it usually results in a big gain.
“When those opportunities come up, we’ve got to execute and make the play, no matter if it’s tackling, knocking a ball down, affecting the quarterback – whatever it is – we’ve got to finish those plays,” Wilcox said. “We didn’t do a good enough job, obviously.”
But instead of laying the blame on the players, as former defensive coordinator Nick Holt did at times last season, Wilcox was adamant that it was something the coaches can teach and foster.
“It’s practicing the right way,” he said. “But what it boils down to on game day is putting yourself in a state of mind and those situations –we’re going to win them. It’s repetition, it’s execution, it’s all those little details. It’s eye control and making sure you’re looking at the right things and not guessing.
“Those things, if you don’t do them, really show up negatively. If you do them, you’ve got a chance to make the play.”
The Huskies increased one-on-one drills and even had more contact drills Tuesday as part of that process. While fundamentals are always the focus, there were a few added drills designed to be competitive and feature player versus player battles.
“It’s everything,” Parker said of the competitive mindset in those situations. “It’s pride, competitiveness, just a passion for the game; just to beat the man in front of you and not let him do what he wants to do. Make him beat you with his ability, make him beat you.”
The Huskies’ defense gets a bit of a break because this week’s opponent – No. 7-ranked Oregon State – plays a little more traditional offense. But it’s far from a guarantee for success.
“They are a very good football team,” Wilcox said. “They have matchup problems here and there, too. There’s going to be times in this game where we’re going to have to win some one-on-ones.”
Whether the Huskies can do that will likely be the key to pulling off the upset.
“That’s all we got to do, and we’ll be fine against Oregon State,” Parker said.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish