Nov. 25, 2010
|Gametracker||Live Audio||Gameday Central|
|TV: FSN-NW||Radio: Washington ISP Sports Network|
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - It figures in this wildly unpredictable Huskies season: A defensive tackle that has lost more than 55 pounds in a year and a half is now starting - and excelling - because he has more bulk.
"I came in at 345 pounds," 6-foot-2 Semisi Tokolahi said of his arrival at UW from Hilo, Hawaii, as a freshman in the summer of 2009. "I'm 289 pounds now."
His shirt and coat size went from 4XL to 2XL. His waist shrunk from 44 to 40.
Asked if perhaps he overdid his daily, pre- and post-workout runs on an elliptical trainer while improving his diet, the sophomore smiled sheepishly and said, "Guess so -- now they want me to try to get to 300."
Tokolahi will be listed at 297 this weekend when Washington (4-6, 3-4 Pac-10) attempts to keep its bowl hopes alive at California (5-6, 4-4) in what amounts to a postseason-elimination game. Kickoff Saturday in Berkeley is at 12:30 p.m. Fox Sports Northwest has the live telecast. The Washington ISP Sports Network has the radio call. And gohuskies.com has a live, in-game chat plus Gametracker and a streaming audio.
Tokolahi is big, as in, one of the biggest reasons for Washington's recent improvement in run defense. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt has been giving the native of Tonga more playing time as the season has progressed, and he made his first career start last against UCLA.
Holt chose Tokolahi because he has more bulk than freshman Sione Potoa'e, and it worked last week. The Bruins and their run-oriented "pistol" offense managed just 98 yards on 33 carries against the Huskies' defensive line of Tokolahi and 330-pound Alameda Ta'amu inside, with Everrette Thompson back out at end opposite 238-pound freshman Hau'oli Jamora.
"We just got off the ball better and took care of gaps," Tokolahi said.
He also said the defensive linemen are using their hands better to shed blocks and maintain control of their assigned areas.
That, in turn, is helping the entire defense. Washington was allowing 440 yards per game before it stalled UCLA into just 163 yards on 61 plays last Thursday night.
"If there is one guy on defense who has really improved it's Semisi," Holt said this week. "He's playing up to where I thought he would be."
Holt knows the key to whether this was one-game surge or an upward trend that will continue over the next two weeks -- and carry the Huskies into their first bowl game since 2002 -- lies with Tokolahi and his D-line mates.
"It always starts up front," Holt said. "Whenever you want to be a good defense, you can't get beat up front."
Holt says Cal is not as big as UCLA was on its offensive line, but that the Bears' blockers move better. So do their backs. The Bears have dynamic, 1,000-yard rusher Shane Vereen, a breakaway back UCLA lacked.
Middle linebacker and defensive signal caller Cort Dennison says that shouldn't matter as long as each of UW's defensive linemen continues taking care of his responsibility. Doing that has recently freed the linebackers from getting blocked, which partly explains why Mason Foster seems to make every play.
The rest of it is that Foster is just plain dominant. His average of 12.8 tackles per game is second in the nation and is more than four tackles ahead of Washington's school record for a season.
Early in the season, when the defensive line was getting handled and sometimes manhandled, Foster, Dennison and those in the back of the defense often felt compelled to stray from their responsibilities to compensate for what was not happening in front of them.
Indeed, if the Huskies had a good play for every time they've said, "We are trying to do too much" this season, they'd be in contention for a conference championship.
But lately, the defensive line has been carrying its load. So the rest of the defense is sticking to carry theirs.
"I think that's been a huge difference in our defense," Dennison said of the D-line. "There is a big trickle-down effect. A strong defensive line presence makes everyone else's job easier behind them."