The 17th-ranked Huskies’ resurgent, versatile defensive line doesn’t just have cartoonish-sized big men. It has cartoon nicknames for the special packages it deploys, depending on the opponent.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Turns out, that new, speedy, four defensive-end front the Huskies deployed on their four-sack night last weekend at Illinois has an old-school name.
Defensive tackle Danny Shelton playfully explained the cartoon name following Tuesday morning’s full-pads practice. He was often the huge, odd man out on the D-line Saturday during Washington’s 34-24 win in Chicago, because Illinois was in four- and five-wide receiver sets with small, quick guys so much.
Shelton admitted he was “disappointed” somewhat that Illinois’ spread passing schemes diminished his stonewalling role in the middle of UW’s defensive line.
But he is just like a kid watching television in the 1970s; he likes “The Jetsons.”
“I have no problem with that. We’ve got to get our best players on the field,” based on what the offense presents the Huskies, the 2012 honorable mention for the All-Pac-12 team said.
Idaho State is presenting a similar task for UW’s defense this week leading up to Saturday’s noon PT game at Husky Stadium (Pac-12 Networks television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat featuring free streaming audio of the live radio broadcast).
The Bengals (2-0) of the lower-division Big Sky Conference spread out and throw the ball a ton. Quarterback Justin Arias is the leading passer in the Football Championship Subdivision at 434 yards through the air per game. Idaho State threw 98 times in wins over Division-II Dixie State and Western State Colorado.
Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox noted Idaho State is averaging 82 plays per game, just below the 85 UW’s super-fast offense is averaging.
"They run as fast a tempo as we’ve seen," Wilcox said. "They are an extremely fast, up-tempo team. They have skilled wide receivers and they move the ball down the field. They are a great challenge for us."
So the task this week is the same as it was last week against Illinois: Put a constricting “cage” around the passer.
"Our job is to get pressure on the quarterback, make him feel uncomfortable and have him make those bad decisions," Shelton said.
That may mean more of “The Jetsons” that debuted at Soldier Field.
On the smaller, faster D-line, usual end Hau’oli Kikaha is Shelton’s replacement inside. Fellow rush ends Josh Shirley, Scott Lawyer and Cory Littleton join Kikaha for the unique pass-rush front. When UW went to that against Illinois, it affected quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase -- and turned a tight game early into what became a 31-10 lead.
“The Jetsons” also turned Shirley into a national leader. Even though he didn’t play a lot in the opening win over Boise State, Shirley is tied for the NCAA lead by averaging 1.5 sacks per game. That’s what his three-sack day against Illinois – all in the first half in the “Jetsons” package – did for him.
Illinois countered in the third quarter by running the ball for the first time this season out of some four- and five-wide receiver sets. UW countered back by bringing Shelton and starting defensive tackle Evan Hudson back into the game, to bring back size against the run.
Shelton was so amped to make a splash in his reduced time last week that he sprinted from the center of the field to the Illinois sideline to smack into Scheelhaase on a roll-out pass play. Shelton was so intent on making that play that he didn’t notice Kikaha had already forced the quarterback to step on the sideline. The 15-yard flag for a late hit by Shelton was one of UW’s 12 penalties in the win.
As for “The Jetsons,” yes, it is far out.
And so far, effective for a team that has been seeking a more potent pass rush since the start of the 2012 season.
"Yeah, very different," Kikaha said of an end pass rushing inside. "On the edge, there is more freelancing out there. Inside, you’ve got to be cautious not to get too far upfield, to not stretch the ‘cage.’
"And I got to nose (tackle). Yay!"
As the cartoon set shows, after years of recruiting and developing Washington’s defensive line now has valuable versatility. And it needs it. Next week, Arizona and Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher in 2012, come to Husky Stadium for the Pac-12 opener. The week after that, UW plays at rugged, No. 5 Stanford and its huge offensive line.
That could mean after Idaho State, you will see a lot more of the Huskies’ other, specialized defensive-line package.
That’s the nickname the Huskies came up with during preseason practices last month for the opposite, heavy package against the run. “The Flintstones” are Shelton and fellow 320-plus pounder Lawrence Lagafuaina at defensive tackle, with Hudson and 271-pound senior Sione Potoa’e at ends.
Yabba, dabba, doo! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpGx4foRdPw
Asked if he was known as Fred in “The Flintstones” package,” the 6-foot-1, 320-plus pound Shelton laughed through a hearty “no.”
After one more week against a pass-heavy foe, with two Pac-12 rivals primed to run at the Dawgs, that might change.
Not that Shelton is taking this week off against Idaho State.
“It’s challenging me,” he said of the D-line’s search for speed in the pass rush these last two weeks. “It’s challenging my game.
“I’ve got to step it up to get on the field.”
INSIDE THE DAWGS: With another 300-yard passing day against Illinois – only his fourth 300-yard game as a Husky -- Keith Price moved into third on UW’s career passing list. The fifth-year senior and third-year starter is up to 6,619 yards passing. Price is 1,020 yards behind Jake Locker for second and will likely finish his Huskies career there. Cody Pickett (1999-2003) tops the list with 10,220 yards passing. Pickett threw 1,429 times in his UW career, 532 times more than Price has so far. … Price needs 45 completions to surpass Locker for second on Washington’s career list in that category. Locker had 619 completions from 2007-10. … Not counting specialists (kickers, punters, snappers, holders and kick returners) Washington has 36 players who have started at least one college game. That includes eight on the offensive line.