Husky Defense Much Improved Under Wilcox

When asked what he thinks about facing former Oregon safety Justin Wilcox, now the defensive coordinator at Washington, running backs coach Gary Campbell reminds you that he went to UCLA, another Pac-12 rival.

EUGENE, Ore.,-Tight ends and special teams coach Tom Osborne is a Washington State grad, Scott Frost attended Stanford before transferring to Nebraska and of the Oregon coaching staff only Steve Greatwood and Don Pellum are Duck alumni.

Campbell also says despite spending his college days in Los Angeles, that doesn't stop him from wanting to "beat the crap" out the Bruins every season.

Much is likely the same for Wilcox, who will face the Ducks for the third time Saturday, after beating them at Boise State in 2009 and losing in 2010 with Tennessee.

Wilcox replaces Nick Holt, whose defense was as leaky as a sieve at times last season, finishing in the bottom half of the conference in nearly all major categories, before an embarrassing 777-yard performance by the Baylor Bears in the Alamo Bowl sealed his fate.

Thus far Wilcox has the Huskies performing at a markedly better rate, ranking in the top five in the conference in more defensive categories than not, including second best in total defense, giving up just 315 yards per contest, 138 yards better than the year before.

"He's trying to play to the strengths of his team, which is a sign of a good coach. Justin is a good coach," Chip Kelly said of Wilcox.

What Oregon will see Saturday will be different certainly from what they saw from Washington in past years, but also from Tennessee and Boise State under Wilcox, Kelly says.

"It's not always the same system because you don't have the same personnel all of the time," Kelly explained. "Tennessee was slightly different than Boise [State], Washington is slightly different than Tennessee."

And it all starts up front, where big Danny Shelton looms large, not just because of his size (he's 317 pounds) but also because of his athleticism. For quarterback Marcus Mariota that was what jumped out the most about their defense.

"They've got a big nose tackle who can really move the offensive line," he said.

Perhaps that was the case for Kelly as well, who was unwilling to concede describing Washington as a speed defense.

"Have you seen Danny Shelton? I don't look at it as a speed defense. They have two humongous tackles in there," Kelly said.

The line backing core isn't big though, averaging just 220 pounds amongst the four of them, but plenty fast, Kelly believes. "Some of those guys aren't the 240 types of kids," he said. "If they sacrifice a little size, then it's because they've got a lot of athleticism and a lot of speed."

The team's top two tacklers, Thomas Tutogi and John Timu, reside in the middle of the defense where they are very "active" players. True freshman super-recruit Shaq Thompson is the team's third leading tackler and has already exerted himself as a leader in the secondary.

On offense, the Huskies have run more spread sets than in past years, possibly to make up for an offensive line that has been overwhelmed this fall.

At the helm is junior Keith Price, who made his first Washington start at Autzen Stadium two seasons ago and played well despite the team's 53-16 loss. Price is a pass-first quarterback who has the ability to tuck it and run, although he's been reluctant to do so this season, only running on seven occasions.

"I trust that he's going to be a veteran, savvy guy that will come in here and not let anything affect him," said defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. "I think he'll come in here guns a blazing, high as a kite, in a positive way.

Price has two huge weapons to throw to in wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who have each caught more than 20 passes already this season. After their two stars, however, no one on the team has more than six receptions.

"They have better weapons out there as far as their wide receivers," said defensive end Dion Jordan. ""It's a new year, so we're looking forward to them giving us their best effort."

Last season Jordan and company sacked Price six times, Jordan chipping in with a team-leading 1.5 himself. Jordan attributed that savagery to a "cranked up intensity" level by the defensive line, but Aliotti believes it will require a team-effort to match those results.

"Our secondary had something to do with that last year, because they made them hold the ball a little bit longer. Then we got a hold of him. I hope we can do it again," he said.

Running back Bishop Sankey has inherited the starting role from the departed Chris Polk, and leads the team with 329 yards rushing. Jordan describes him as a less shifty, hard-nosed running Polk.

The Ducks and Huskies will kick off Saturday at 7:30. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, with Joe Tessitore on play-by-play, Matt Millen lending analysis and Lewis Johnson on the field.

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