By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- Someone asked John Timu if he was going to enjoy something of a “vacation” during this Huskies bye week, after eight rugged games.
The gritty middle linebacker and Huskies co-captain glared like the guy was wearing Cougars gear inside Husky Stadium’s west end zone.
"I wouldn’t say a vacation. That’s a bad word in this sport," Timu spat back following Tuesday morning’s practice in brilliant, fall sunshine.
"Just because it’s a bye week doesn’t mean I get the week off."
No way. Not with this defense.
Coordinator Justin Wilcox had the Huskies tackling each other again in the latest practice, even though the Huskies don’t play again for 11 days. Veterans and starters such as Timu worked on technique and form on pads and bags. The reserves went live in what has become a weekly Tuesday ritual for UW’s defense this season.
"Everybody’s got something to work on, whether you’ve been here four years or four months," Wilcox said.
Tackling, especially key stops one on one in the open field, was the reason Washington was the top-ranked defense in the Pac-12 entering October. Then speedy Oregon did what it does to almost every opponent, and the Huskies had a regression in allowing 53 points in the baffling performance at Arizona State two weeks ago.
Though they improved compared to Arizona State last weekend when they beat California 41-17 – with the final touchdown coming late on a 73-yard run against the third-string defense -- the Huskies still allowed Cal 483 yards and 4.5 yards per rush. And that average included UW’s three sacks for minus-17 yards.
The Huskies have Colorado at home next week, then play at No. 17 UCLA and at Oregon State, the latter of which lost on the last play at home last weekend to fifth-ranked Stanford. The Beavers have the nation’s top-ranked passing offense with the country’s leader in passing yards, Sean Mannion.
After that it’s the Apple Cup against Washington State. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday is third in the nation in passing yards.
So, no, even with some starters getting some practice plays off to develop depth this week, this bye is no time for the Huskies’ defense to take a vacation.
“We will still work on tackling,” Wilcox said Tuesday.
Timu said the difference on defense between the losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State and the rout of Cal came inside the helmet.
“Our mentality and our attitude changed,” he said. “Three losses in a row, that’s not who we are.”
How did the junior captain help change the defense’s attitude?
“Just actions. Leading by actions,” he said. “We had been talking, talking about what we needed to do, but we weren’t doing it.”
That means staying in assigned pass rush and run-defense lanes, tackles and ends selflessly taking up blockers along the line to free Timu and his fellow linebackers plus safeties Sean Parker and newly inserted Tre Watson, making more plays on the ball in the air in pass coverage – and, yes, tackling better.
“Last week,” Timu said, “we did what we’d been talking about.”
INSIDE THE DAWGS: After Saturday night’s 376-yard passing game, Keith Price said his thumb that had been throbbing since the second half Oct. 5 at Stanford and forced him to leave the ASU game with 12 minutes left felt almost completely healed. “It feels better than it has since the first half at Stanford,” Price said. That thumb figures to only get better this week with a reduced workload and no one hitting him this idle Saturday, meaning Price will be as full of health as he’s been since September when the Huskies next play on Nov. 9 against Colorado. … Price’s 376 yards against Cal was the second-most in his UW career. His only better night was the galactic, 2011 Alamo Bowl when he threw for 438 yards, accounted for a national bowl-record seven touchdowns and outplayed Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor.