Many of the fans that came to Husky Stadium on Saturday were there for a glimpse of the offense, most notably quarterback Jacob Eason.
But it was the defense that dominated the spring preview to the tune of a 38-21 final score. That wasn’t surprising to defensive back Isaiah Gilchrist, who said the offense is typically more likely to struggle in the spring.
“I feel like offense, it’s harder,” he said. “There’s much smaller things and details. Defense, you kind of just know what you’re doing and fly around and make plays. Offense, there’s so many little blocking schemes and alignments and it’s much harder for them to get going. With the fall, they’ll get going.”
Jacob Eason completed 7-of-12 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on the final offensive play of the game when he scrambled and then found Kamari Pleasant in the end zone with a 17-yard touchdown pass. Eason was also sacked four times.
Jake Haener completed 9-of-16 passes for 61 yards and had an interception. As has been typical throughout spring practice, the two split the first-team reps. The five quarterbacks combined for just 139 passing yards and one passing touchdown.
The offense’s two other touchdowns came on the ground. Salvon Ahmed had a good series late and after finding holes for two strong back-to-back runs, he scored a 5-yard touchdown up the middle. Pleasant then scored on a 4-yard run on the next series.
Ahmed finished with five carries for 44 yards and a touchdown while Pleasant had seven carries for 33 yards and a touchdown. Richard Newton led the running backs with 13 carries for 51 yards. Sean McGrew had five carries for 19 yards.
On the receiving end, redshirt freshman Marquis Spiker had the best day. He was a reliable target for the quarterbacks, hauling in six passes for 47 yards. Fellow redshirt freshman Austin Osborne also had six catches for 37 yards.
While the offense struggled on Saturday, tight end Hunter Bryant has no doubt everything will come together.
“I like being slept on because you can come out and prove everybody wrong,” he said. “I love proving people wrong.”
Sacks on sacks
The pass rush was a weak spot for UW last season. If the spring preview is any indication, that won’t be the case this year.
The Huskies finished the day with six sacks. Ariel Ngata and Joe Tryon each had two while Ryan Bowman and Myles Rice each finished with one. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake pointed to Ngata and Tryon as the players who have made the biggest strides this spring.
“Our two focuses on the spring are getting more pressure on the quarterbacks and getting turnovers,” Lake said, “and I think more guys have really provided a spark for us.”
Ngata has been splitting his time between inside and outside linebacker. He can be successful at both, Lake said, because his speed and electricity can’t be taught.
“Been extremely impressed with him,” Lake said. “I’ve seen him up in the office watching way more film than he’s ever watched and I think it’s paying off for him. I think he’s going to be an electric pass rusher for us.”
DJ Beavers medically retires
UW announced after the game that senior linebacker DJ Beavers, who had been plagued with injuries throughout his career, was medically retiring. Beavers, a senior, played in just five games in each of the last two seasons.
“Such a tough football player,” Lake said. “Was just snakebitten. It seemed like every spring practice, every training camp, every three games he was getting injured.
“Just unfortunate for the guy. That’s just how it happens sometimes. This is a physical, fierce game that we play and sometimes it doesn’t roll right for certain guys.”
Best hands in the room
The Huskies defensive backs award the ‘Best Hands’ trophy three times a year. It goes to the player with the most interceptions after spring practice, fall camp and the season.
For the first time in his career, cornerback Keith Taylor has the trophy in his possession. He finished spring with six interceptions, one more than Kyler Gordon. Last year, Taylor entered the spring preview tied with Elijah Molden and Myles Bryant, but Molden ended up with the trophy.
“You should have seen the smile on (Taylor’s) face when Coach Pete blew the practice and the whole scrimmage was over,” Lake said. ‘He was smiling ear-to-ear.”
This year’s competition wasn’t without controversy. During a practice this week, Gordon seemingly intercepted the ball off a tipped pass. But while head coach Chris Petersen called it an interception, the Huskies’ jury of defensive backs voted 8-3 that the ball hit the ground first.
“Kyler was not happy about it,” Lake said with a grin.
Peyton Henry was perfect on field goals from 31, 38, 32, 38 and 40 yards.
Eight players recorded a pass breakup: Josh Calvert, Isaiah Gilchrist, Elijah Molden, Dom Hampton, John Clark, Sam Taimani and Kyler Gordon. Calvert, an early enrollee freshman, has looked strong all spring. He finished with a team-high seven tackles on Saturday. MJ Tafisi also had seven tackles.
Former defensive tackle Kaleb McGary, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the NFL Draft, was at the game and getting hugs from the Huskies as they walked off the field.
Former cornerback Byron Murphy was also expected to go in the first round but had to wait until the first pick of Rounds 2 to be selected by the Arizona Cardinals. Lake said he texted Murphy after Round 1 ended on Thursday.
“I just texted him, and said, “Byron, this is exactly what happened to Kevin when you were at my house two years ago,’” Lake said. “’And you watch, you’re going to get drafted in the first four or five picks on day two and then you can go show the world why you should’ve been a first rounder when you get to whatever team you land.’”