SEATTLE – There are "city fumbles," John Timu explains, and there are "country fumbles."
A city fumble – ball on the ground, lots of dudes in the area trying to grab it – needs to be dived upon and covered immediately.
But the country fumbles -- those that occur away from the obstructive tangle of arms and bodies -- represent opportunity. And so Washington’s coaching staff encourages its defensive players to recognize that when a ball is on the ground with enough room to scoop it up and run with it, that they should, well, scoop it up and run with it. They drill this frequently in practice.
That emphasis manifested during the Huskies’ game last week against Illinois, when defensive end Andrew Hudson stripped Illini quarterback Wes Lunt of the football, and Timu sealed off an Illinois player to allow junior linebacker Shaq Thompson to duck in, pluck the ball off the turf and sprint 52 yards unimpeded for a touchdown.
Thompson said as soon as he saw the ball on the ground – and saw Timu essentially set a block for him before UW even had possession – he knew he was going to try to scoop it and keep moving.
“My whole mindset was a scoop and score, even if it was only like five or 10 yards,” Thompson said. “Just the fact that I scooped it and wasn’t going to fall on it.”
Timu said he thought about picking it up, too, but figured since Thompson was closer, he would let him grab the ball and instead do whatever he could to make sure Thompson didn’t get tackled.
“If there's one thing, I'm a team player,” Timu said. “I feel like I had a chance (at the ball), but then, I felt like there was a guy who was probably an inch closer to me, so I sacrificed my body, and after that, whatever happens, happens."
The stated goal of Washington’s defensive coaching staff is to “score or get the ball back” on every possession. Obviously, the former is preferable.
“We work on it in practice, and we emphasize it,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “It just comes down to guys executing and making it happen.”
The Huskies scored two defensive touchdowns against Illinois. The other, also by Thompson, came on a 36-yard interception return. UW's offense has converted two of the other three turnovers forced by the defense into touchdowns so far this season, giving the Huskies an 80 percent (4-for-5) touchdown rate following takeaways.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple