They aren’t “Husky Stadium” or “Retake Montlake,” at least not for the Dawgs who must defend Broncos quarterback Joe Southwick better than they did in December’s Las Vegas Bowl.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Washington’s defense has been hearing two words over and over in advance of Saturday’s opener.
Those words aren’t “Husky Stadium” — even though this weekend is the place’s grand reopening after 21 months and $281 million of renovations.
They aren’t “trick plays or “Boise State,” either, though that’s getting warmer.
It’s “eye discipline.”
"Oh, my gosh. That’s been what we’ve heard every day since summer started. Since spring practice, really," defensive tackle Danny Shelton said this week while preparing for Husky Stadium’s unveiling game against the 19th-ranked Broncos Saturday at 7:06 p.m. (Fox Sports 1 television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the exclusive game chat and play by play).
The Huskies have heard “eye discipline” so many times “I can’t even count,” fellow starting defensive lineman Evan Hudson said with a laugh.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi have uttered “eye discipline” so often since December's loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl they could be optometrists.
The words have even reached the back end of Washington’s defense.
“They try to mess with your eyes,” starting cornerback Marcus Peters said. “It’s important we stay focus and disciplined.”
Yes, the Broncos are nationally renowned for their fun trick plays. But it wasn’t double reverses, fumblerooskis or Statute-of-Liberty plays that hurt the Huskies eight-plus months ago. It was the scrambling, improvisational runs and throws by quarterback Joe Southwick. When he didn’t run often found receivers who got wide open because nosy Huskies cover men left them to challenge the quarterback’s dashes outside.
*First drive of the bowl game: Southwick scrambles for eight yards to the UW 36 on third and 8. That sets up Boise State’s first points, a field goal.
*Second quarter, third and 14: Southwick keeps the play alive long enough to pass for 18 yards and a first down. That drive ends with a Boise State touchdown.
*Third quarter, third and 18: Southwick scrambles for 17 yards to the UW 21, then runs for the first down on the ensuing fourth and 1. That drive ends with another Boise State TD.
*Fourth quarter, fourth and 1 at the UW 33: Southwick runs for a first down to set up what became the game-winning field goal with 1:16 left.
All told, that plays led to 20 of Boise’s points in the Huskies’ 28-26 loss.
"Yeah, absolutely, he hurt us a number of times running the ball and throwing the ball," Wilcox said.
The 6-foot-1, 202-pound Southwick is back leading Boise State’s offense into Saturday’s rematch, the first time since 1927 UW has played the same team in consecutive games. But this time the Huskies feel they are better prepared for Southwick’s surprising elusiveness.
"He shocked everyone. I know he shocked me," UW linebacker Shaq Thompson said.
That’s where the eye discipline comes in.
“Don’t eye peek,” Thompson said.
Up front, the Huskies felt they got caught looking into the backfield at Southwick on his scrambles rather than keeping their eyes focused on beating the blocker over them and staying in their own gaps.
Lupoi calls it a need to “pass rush in harmony.”
"Not one guy one his own, playing his own game. That creates some openings," the D-line coach said. "It’s just understanding and seeing where you are on the field and being in the spot you are supposed to."
His players call it keeping a “cage” around the quarterback.
Hudson, the converted tight end who will start either at defensive end or next to Shelton at defensive tackle depending on what set UW begins in, says “cage” keeping comes down to … well, you guessed it.
“It’s all about your eyes,” Hudson said, “and staying in your gap.”
So if you see pass rushers within near-arm’s length of each other Saturday night as they pursue Southwick — more like that human cage rather than freelancing individuals — you’ll know the Huskies’ harped-on “eye discipline” is intact.
Those better eyes could keep Southwick contained, and thus may go a long way toward making Washington’s first game back inside Husky Stadium a victorious one.
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Thursday’s wet practice inside Husky Stadium included the weekly fine-tuning of the 15-play script Sarkisian has for the first quarter of each game. The coach varies from the plan if in the game’s first 15 plays UW gets into a special situation such as inside the red zone or third down and very long or very short, but Sarkisian sees the script as comforting for QB Keith Price and the offense. “I think our players like to know, ‘Hey, in the first quarter we are going to run these plays,’” Sarkisian said. … Lost amid all the excitement for the opener: Micah Hatchie is back at left tackle and Ben Riva moved back to right tackle. So it’s back to the way it was last season. … Sarkisian said both Travis Coons and Korey Durkee may end up punting Saturday, depending on the situation. Coons will do the field-goal kicking. Freshman Cameron Van Winkle will kick off. … The latest forecast for Saturday night fits the quality of new Husky Stadium: Perfect -- clear, zero percent chance of rain, temperatures in the upper 70s. … Thursday is day 29 of 30 in our Retake Montlake series. The most recent story is on the team’s tunnel being redone and lengthened yet maintaining its tradition, which is renowned among players. “Pretty special,” Sarkisian said. You can view all the stories in the series on each aspect of the new stadium here: http://www.gohuskies.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=30200&ATCLID=208901760&DB_OEM_ID=30200 …. This is the 11th time in 23 seasons and first time since 2009 that the Huskies have opened against a ranked team. UW is 4-6 in those previous 10 openers against ranked foes.