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Active Defense Controls Spring Game -- But With Caveat
Release: 04/20/2013
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April 20, 2013

• 2013 UW Spring Stats Get Acrobat Reader | Photo Gallery

By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - Summoned from the Memorial Stadium stands and into the rain by the Huskies' staff, seven-year-old Jordan Johnston walked up to Steve Sarkisian and called the play he wanted to start the drive.

Toss sweep.

Kendyl Taylor dutifully ran around left end for eight yards on the simple play the little guest coach in purple, UW basketball shorts had called.

Sarkisian smiled. A second grader from Crestmont Elementary School in Roseville, Calif., outside Sacramento, had a memory for life.

He also had unknowingly nailed the essence of Washington's spring game Saturday under the Space Needle.

It featured basic, vanilla offense, much like the play young Jordan called. That meant the scrimmage favored the defense, as starters dialing it back some to showcase younger players.

Plus, Jordan's family is close to that of Shaq Thompson. The Huskies' linebacker from Sacramento shined again Saturday, along with the rest of the defense.

Second-year coordinator Justin Wilcox's attacking unit controlled most of the scrimmaging - red-zone situations, drive starts from the offense's own 25-yard-line and an overtime simulation.

But this wasn't the offense Washington will feature Aug. 31 against Boise State in the unveiling of new Husky Stadium.

Beyond young Jordan's play call, this spring game had wiener dog races. It had Chris Williams, the world's No. 1-ranked amateur, and Charlie Hughes from UW's golf team dueling in a 75-yard, closest-to-Harry-the-Husky-holding-the-flag contest; Williams won and celebrated with a fist pump.

And it had the go-go offense under wraps.

"Of course spring games are a little vanilla. But that's no excuse," said Keith Price, who official statistics said completed 5 of 14 passes with a touchdown in the flat on a check down to running back Bishop Sankey. "Quarterbacks should lead with pushing the pace. I thought we could have done a better job with that."

Perhaps the best accomplishment of the spring for the offense?

"I felt good. I felt my swagger came back a little bit," Price said.

That will come in handy this fall, behind an offensive line returning four starters and with 1,400-yard back Bishop Sankey, leading outside receiver Kasen Williams returning, plus huge tight-end target Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who will likely return sometime in the fall after serving a still-indefinite suspension.

"We're going to be a scary offense," Price said, verbalizing some of that renewed swagger. "Especially when we get Austin back."

The spring game - or the previous 14 practices -- didn't settle the one spot still available on the offensive line. Erik Kohler didn't practice until mid-April following knee surgery and is still getting into shape to play center. When he got tired near the end of scrimmaging again on Saturday, Kohler skipped a snap back to Jeff Lindquist.

But Kohler's healing knee was good enough that the two-year starter at guard and tackle shared a leaping chest bump with Cyler Miles on the sideline following their touchdown drive in the overtime-scenario scrimmage. The drive ended with a scoring run by Taylor around right end.

Miles was the first of the many backups to Price to appear. The redshirt freshman from suburban Denver completed his first two drives in red-zone scrimmaging for touchdowns and eight of 11 throws for three scores overall.

Freshman Troy Williams, the Los Angeles city section player of the year last fall who enrolled at UW early, completed 2 of 5 passes with a touchdown. Lindquist was 0 for 5 passing, though the redshirt freshman from Mercer Island, Wash., fired perfect strikes deep down the sideline during drills with receivers before the scrimmaging. Lindquist didn't get to show off his running skills since quarterbacks were not to be touched.

That didn't stop Thompson from blitzing free and dropping Price as his hurried pass fell beyond the sidelines incomplete during the first, red-zone scrimmage.

Connor Cree concluded his impressive spring on the inside of the defensive line with two more tackles behind the line plus a fumble recovery. Linebacker Jamaal Kearse also had two tackles for losses. Josh Shirley had a sack and scooped up a fumble before rumbling 60 yards the other way with it. In the secondary, Gregory Ducre and Travell Dixon each broke up a short pass in their ongoing battle with Cleveland Wallace and Marcus Peters to be starting cornerbacks. And Tre Watson was everywhere defending inside receivers and coming up for tackles.

"I do my job, everybody does their jobs, and we can be a great defense," said rising senior safety Sean Parker, another veteran who yielded some to younger guys Saturday. "I'd say we took a few jumps. We came together.

"We are ready to do big things."

Thing is, Sarkisian wasn't about to reveal on national television Saturday the hyper-speed, no-huddle offense that was clipping off 130-plus plays in an hour-plus this spring during 14 other, closed practices. He wasn't going to show the world, including the couple thousand fans who enjoyed free admission and the Husky band and cheerleaders, the exotic formations, shifts and plays Washington had been running all spring.

Not yet.

"We've been faster than this," Sarkisian said. "You are in a spring game and I want to give the fans something to see and a chance to see what fall camp will be about and the season will be about. But I am also aware of the fact we were on national television.

"We're doing something a little bit new. You don't want to give up all of your goodies. We want to save a few things for August 31st. That was a little bit of the challenge. And I think some of the (guys), especially the quarterbacks, got a little bit frustrated with the simplicity of the stuff we were running - and not all the stuff that we had been running for the last few weeks."

Sarkisian said the heavy no-huddle scheme he installed over this spring is likely here to stay as Washington's primary offense this fall. It emphasizes Price's improvisational skills, which he used more in 2011 while setting school records with 33 touchdown passes and a 66.9-percent completion rate. It also gives that defense extensive, daily practice with what it will face against Oregon, Arizona and others during Pac-12 play this fall.

"We wanted to exhaust ourselves for 15 practices doing it, to get our comfort level right," Sarkisian said. "I think our comfort level not only on offense but on defense playing at this tempo really improved as the spring went on."

INSIDE THE DAWGS: Lindquist, Miles - and, yes, Sarkisian - all nailed the crossbar from 40 yards away during a contest the Huskies love to do at the end of many practices, especially at visiting stadiums during Friday walkthroughs the day before games. One of the loudest cheers of the day came after Sarkisian did it. QBs coach Marques Tuiasosopo was just short hitting the bar. Warren Moon, UW's 1978 Rose Bowl MVP and then Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, joined Price is overthrowing it. "I can hold that bragging right on Warren Moon for a while," Sarkisian joked. ... The coach said he expects all injured Huskies that sat out spring practice to return for the start of fall camp Aug. 5. That includes starting guard Colin Tanigawa, defensive linemen Hau'oli Jamora, Pio Vatuvei and Lawrence Lagafuaina, plus running backs Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper. Tanigawa, Callier and Cooper looked smooth on change-of-direction jogs along the sideline Saturday while wearing knee braces. ... Sarkisian specified Antavius Sims for his game. The rising senior junior-college transfer had a team-high five catches and two touchdowns.

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