High-Flying Eagles Not Standard FCS Fare For Huskies Defense In Opener
Aug. 30, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - On one, personal level, Washington's first game against an in-state school other than Washington State in 67 years will feel like a high-school reunion.
A whopping 18 of the Eastern Washington Eagles that will start on offense, defense and as kickers or kick returners Saturday at 4 p.m. in the 2011 opener at Husky Stadium are from Seattle's western half of the state.
"I know a lot of these guys," said Huskies cornerback Desmond Trufant, from Tacoma. "They are good athletes."
On another, far more tangible level, this unique Huskies opener will feel like a fast-paced, advanced game of pinball. It's a challenge far more intricate than what most Football Bowl Subdivision teams are facing this weekend against a lower-division opponent.
Eastern's offense is a spread-and-throw show. Flinging quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, tall, athletic receivers and a veteran offensive line return from the 2010 team that won the Football Championship Subdivision. And the Eagles from Cheney are favored to do it again. They are ranked No. 1 in the 2011 preseason FCS poll.
UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt rattled off a lengthy list when asked after Tuesday's practice what the challenge is in facing Eastern Washington.
"Oh, I think throwing the ball all over the place, having four wides and having a good quarterback that's accurate then a bunch of receivers who can catch the ball," Holt said. "They have a lot of starters back. And they moved the ball on everybody last year. They won a lot of games.
"And they get the ball off quickly. So it's going to be a challenge, really a challenge. ... They pose plenty of problems."
But Week 1 will be prime test for new starting safety Sean Parker, fill-in cornerback Greg Ducre (assuming starter Quinton Richardson's high ankle sprain isn't healed enough to play Saturday), two new starting outside linebackers in John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono - heck, Washington's entire defense.
"There are going to be a lot of passes. The DBs are going to have to be on top of their games," Trufant said. "They take a lot of shots. Regardless of whether their guy is covered or not, they will throw it up there with confidence their guy will come down with the ball. So even if we are in good coverage, we have to be ready to make a play."
That includes against former Huskies running back Demetrius Bronson. Bronson was an honorable mention for all-state at Kentwood High School in the Seattle suburb of Kent. He signed with UW after finishing his high-school career with 3,810 yards. He was averaging more than 200 yards per game as a senior until he sustained an ankle.
He began 2009 briefly battling Chris Polk, who was coming off an injury, for the Huskies' starting running back job in Steve Sarkisian's first season coaching Washington. Polk, of course, won that competition and ran for 1,000 yards. Bronson finished his true freshman season with 19 carries in seven games.
Bronson, whose brother John played at Penn State and in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals, didn't get a carry in a stacked UW backfield headed by Polk's 1,400 yards last season.
He then found a home at Eastern, and the door was wide open. The Eagles lost star rusher Taiwan Jones early to NFL following his 2010 junior season.
"Demetrius, he's a good kid. I respect Demetrius for everything he's about," said Huskies defensive captain Cort Dennison, the middle linebacker who will be meeting him head-on Saturday. "He's a really good kid, on and off the field. He's a hard runner, and he's a big back. We better drop our pads and bring our feet when we tackle, because he wants to prove a point and he will run hard.
"We've got to bring it."
Timu's ready to bring it - farther out than most outside linebackers usually play. The four-wide receiver sets mean Timu may have coverage duties in his college debut, to help UW's safeties downfield.
But that's not new for him, because this is no usual freshman linebacker. He was a safety at Long Beach Jordan High School. He only became a linebacker after gaining 35 pounds because he didn't have insurance to properly rehabilitate a reconstructed knee during his senior year early in 2010.
Even the offensive scheme he will face Saturday - not to mention the following week when Hawaii visits UW - is familiar to Timu. He was also a quarterback in a spread, zone-read offense in high school. So at least he has the concepts down of what the opposition will be trying to do to in the first two games of his Huskies career.
But Timu notes EWU also likes to run many draws, so the linebackers must stay aware of their run-play keys along the line of scrimmage Saturday. Dennison pointed out Eastern sometimes lines up two tight ends to run inside on one play then goes back into four wides to throw on the next.
That means Josh Shirley, who has found a niche as a rush end from spring practice and through the summer, can't just fire off in search of a passing quarterback on each play in what will also be his college debut.
The redshirt freshman thinks the biggest challenge Eastern presents for the defensive front is "reading your keys."
"Because if you don't, you can slip up real easily," Shirley said.
Despite all the spread formations, all the passing, all the high-flying offense Eastern will bring, it won't be foreign to Huskies defenders. Keith Price had taken a shotgun snap or three while in an empty backfield this preseason.
"Lots of what they have is nothing new," Timu said. "We've seen it from our offense. Our offense has a lot of spread packages."
QUICK HITS: Polk did not participate in the 95-minute practice Tuesday, a day after he did some light running on the side. But the 1,400-yard rusher from 2010 did test his knee on a stationary bike on the sidelines. He had arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 18. ... Starting cornerback Quinton Richardson practiced for the second consecutive day, his first work since he sustained a high ankle sprain on Aug. 13. ... RB Johri Fogerson (hip) did not practice, leaving Jesse Callier and true freshman Bishop Sankey as the offense's backs again. ... The opener is apparently going to be great in at least one respect: The forecast for Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium says sunny with a high of 77, light wind and 60-percent humidity by kickoff.