Defense Preps For Opposite, Aerial Challenge This Week
Oct. 26, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Last weekend, it was undefeated Stanford staying in three tight ends and goal-line formations to run, run and run some more power offense.
This week it's air-it-out Arizona, with a 3,000-yard passer and a huge, record-seeking wide receiver.
It's enough to make Nick Holt grin - and bear it.
"Isn't that beautiful?" the Huskies defensive coordinator said with a smile Tuesday night after his unit's latest preparations for Arizona (2-5, 1-4 Pac-12), the homecoming opponent Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for Washington (5-2, 3-1).
"That's the beauty of our conference. That makes it fun," an upbeat Holt said with a devilish chuckle. "Yeah, that's fun.
"It keeps you up at night. And then next week you've got a whole different set of problems (against once-beaten, supersonic Oregon). It's just this conference. It's a fantastic conference with great offenses and great offensive coaches. It keeps us on our toes."
Sure beats "being on our heels," which is what Holt said he thought his Huskies were last weekend early at Stanford.
The Cardinal had 198 yards rushing in the first quarter. The huge gains began on the game's first play. Washington pursued hard to its right to defend what the Huskies thought was a sweep. It became a reverse, with wide receiver Chris Owusu running around the opposite end for 45 yards to the UW 31.
And the Cardinal kept running while building a 38-14 halftime lead in an eventual, 65-21 win. It was the most points UW had allowed since Nov. 24, 2001, at Miami.
It spawned inevitable criticism from outside the program.
Holt has been a head coach at Idaho and a Rose Bowl-winning defensive coordinator at USC. So he knows criticism comes with his job - not that he's necessarily hearing it on sports-talk radio or what have you.
"I rarely listen to the radio as it is," he said. "Unless it's country western or talk radio, NPR. I will listen to that - unfortunately.
"I read the paper. I want to read about other stuff, other than ourselves. I guess you've got to have thick skin. Really.
"I know you guys love us. I know you do. And we want to do well. We're more disappointed than you guys, trust me.
"Trust me, we get really (ticked) off," Holt added with a wicked smile. Desmond Trufant can vouch for that. The junior cornerback and leader in the Huskies secondary said "the coaches got on us" this week.
"And rightly so," Trufant said. "We have high standards and expectations around here. We just want to get better."
Holt says definitive judgment should come after the season, when he expects first-time starters such as John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono at outside linebacker, Sean Parker at safety, Josh Shirley at defensive end and Greg Ducre at cornerback to have improved even more than they have since the opener Sept. 3.
"Wait till the end of the year, then let's look at the numbers," Holt said. "We are 5-2, and we haven't been 5-2 in our three years, either. We've been playing some good offenses, you know, but the wins and losses are the most important."
Asked if he felt his defense is better than it was when he and the rest of Steve Sarkisian's staff got to UW in January 2009, Holt said, "Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I do.
"We're 5-2 third year. We went to a bowl game our second year. It's on course. Obviously we'd love to be 7-0 right now. But we get to come home, get a chance to play Arizona, a great offensive team (with) a great quarterback. Great skill. So we have to play our butts off to get to 6-2.
"We're just still young at a lot of key positions. We've just got to keep coaching them."
Arizona throws it quickly, often and accurately. Nick Foles leads the Pac-12 with 2,541 yards passing - an average of 363 yards per game - with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He is second in the nation averaging 32.4 completions per game and has been good on 70.9 percent of his passes, on pace for an Arizona record for a season.
Holt likens Arizona's system to Hawaii's. The Wildcats also throw the ball quickly out of spread formations - so quickly a pass rush has difficulty reaching the quarterback before he throws.
"They are pretty similar," Holt said of Arizona and Hawaii, which completed 31 of 45 passes for 333 yards but just one touchdown in the Huskies' 40-32 win in Week 2. "This guy (Foles) is a lot bigger. He's probably not as mobile as the guy from Hawaii (Bryant Moniz), but he's got a stronger arm and he sees (the field). Boy, he's really accurate, too."
Holt says it will help the Huskies "a little" to have faced the spread and quick-passing offenses of Hawai'i and Eastern Washington, "but these guys' skill is better than those two schools. They are bigger, just big guys."
The biggest, and best, of Arizona's receivers is 6-foot-4, 215-pound Juron Criner, who is three receiving touchdowns from Theopolis Bell's school career record.
Holt says Washington must disrupt Criner and fellow Arizona receivers at the line of scrimmage. The Huskies are likely to double cover Criner and give Foles different looks so the quarterback isn't able to repeatedly target the defenses in the same way.
No real secrets there. Arizona sees those defensive looks each week.
It's just a matter of Washington executing better on defense.
"It's going to come down to us making more plays than them," said Trufant, who intercepted Foles to seal a 36-33 Huskies victory on Arizona's last trip to Seattle in 2009.
"We want to approach every game the same. But after that last game we definitely want to come out and perform better -- obviously.
"We are just going to keep that mindset of `Keep climbing,' keep striving to improve."
QUICK HITS: Saturday's game will feature two of the nation's active career receiving touchdown leaders. UW's Jermaine Kearse has 28, two short of Mario Bailey's school record from 1988-91. Criner has 27 at Arizona. ... Trufant is wowed that he has only two games left in Husky Stadium. Though only a junior, Trufant will play Nov. 26's Apple Cup and his senior season of 2012 at the Seattle Seahawks' CenturyLink Field while Husky Stadium gets renovated. "It's crazy to think about that. All the history and all the great things that have happened here, to think there are only two games left," Trufant said. "Hopefully we finish strong."