'09 Previews: Washington Defense

Here's our take: We'll ignore the fact that the OL stinks and Jake Locker has thus far displayed Vince Young-like accuracy in his college career – and is now in a pro-style offense that stresses accuracy. Generously assume that the offense will do enough to be competitive in the league. Even so, the defense is by far worse than any Pac-10 school's, save for WSU's. We are not buying the Huskies.

Note: this preview was written before the season had started -- and Washington had knocked off USC. Take this, therefore, with a grain of salt, but I'd also take the post-USC upset euphoria with a grain of salt too -- it's still as likely as not, in my opinion, that Washington misses out on a bowl entirely. Averaged together then, this preview, representative of preseason expectations regarding the Huskies, and what your eyes have seen the last three weeks present a fairly complete picture of Stanford's next opponent.

First Down: The Basics
Stanford @ Washington – September 5

Last Year: @ Stanford 58, Washington 0

Stat Battle: Washington D vs. Stanford O
Stats listed opponent defense (Pac-10 Rank), Stanford offense (Pac-10 Rank). All stats Pac-10 only. The first six 2008 stats are good and last three stats bad for an offense, so the larger the first six stats are, the better the offensive rank and the worse the defense rank, and vice versa for the final three stats.

Points Per Game: 38.6 (9), 28.6 (6)
Yards Per Game: 433 (9), 369 (5)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 247 (9), 218 (2)
Yards Per Carry: 5.8 (9), 5.1 (4!)
Passing Yards Per Game: 186 (5), 151 (9)
Completion Percentage: 65.9% (10), 57.1% (4)
Yards Per Point: 11.2 (9), 12.9 (7)
Turnovers: 7 (10), 16 (7)
Sacks: 14 (9), 12 (2)

Returning Starters: 10 (Avg: 6.4), 9 (Avg: 7.4)
Predicted Points Per Game: 32, TBA

Second Down: Line
End Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was First Team All Pac-10 last year, yet the line allowed 5.7 yards per carry (and the defense allowed 67 percent of passes to be completed). How bad must the rest of the guys been? We'll find out this year, I suppose, because they all return. Tackles Alameda Ta'amu and Cameron Elisara were both four-star recruits out of high school, and Ta'amu in particular figures to improve seeing as he was a true freshman last year – and weighs 348 pounds! Maybe he won't be much of a pass rusher (indeed, Washington averaged a sack on just five percent of pass plays, second-to-last in the league, versus nine percent for Stanford and an average of about 7.5 percent), but good luck pushing him out of the way for a fullback dive. Maybe I just have a thing for defenders who sound like they're from the South Pacific after watching Oregon's Haloti Ngota and seemingly half of USC's roster (Fili Moala, Rey Maualuga, Kaluka Maiava and Troy Polamalu, among others) wreak havoc on the Cardinal all these years, but looking at the DTs' recruiting profiles and the fact that the coaches were confident enough with the position to switch Senio Kelemete (per chance another Samoan?) to right guard, the DTs have to be better than last year.
The end opposite Te'o-Nesheim is a major question mark, as senior end Darrion Jones, the presumptive starter, managed only 17 tackles all last year. In fact, Ta'amu had 21 tackles in five starts (decent, not great) and Elisara, the other DT, had just 24 tackles in seven starts, so you can see why teams were so able to run on last year's Washington D. If Te'o-Nesheim (65 tackles, and eight of the team's 16 sacks) stays healthy and someone else, likely Ta'amu, steps up, this will be a decent unit, but if not, the DL could be every bit as bad as last year.
Rating: 1.5

Third Down: Linebackers
E.J. Savannah is back with the squad after posting 111 tackles in 2007. His 2008 generated more headlines yet, though – he was first ruled ineligible academically, then suspended by Ty Willingham for a combination of academics and who knows what else, Ty wouldn't say: "The parties involved know what they are," Willingham told the Seattle Times at the time. "Sometimes those things can change overnight. Sometimes they may be forever." Yup, sounds like Ty.
Savannah and Te'o-Nesheim figure to be the Co-Defensive MVPs. Mason Foster, the other outside linebacker, is another strong defender, leading the team with 105 tackles as a sophomore last year, and senior Donald Butler (69 tackles, two sacks last year) is serviceable in the middle. I'm calling for these linebackers to be nearly average, with stars Savannah and Foster covering up for the lack of standout talent in the middle and lack of quality depth. The biggest swing factor (beta, in business parlance) is whether Savannah can return to his form of two years ago after sitting out for a year.
Rating: 2.5

Fourth Down: Secondary
Nine with starting experience return, albeit off a unit that allowed 24 touchdowns to seven interceptions last year. Gone is CB Mesphin Forrester, the No. 2 tackler in the secondary last year. Of the presumptive starters, none are seniors and none were highly recruited out of high school. Expect juniors Matt Mosley and Nate Williams and sophomores Quinton Richardson and Johri Fogerson to appear on a lot of SportsCenter highlights this fall, and not for good reasons. Washington's defensive backfield has struggled for years, allowing 60, 67, 61, 64 and 67 percent accuracy the last five seasons, respectively. Maybe 67 drops to 64 or so with the returning experience, but with a better front seven and an offense that can keep games closer, teams will pass more and the 211 passing yards Washington allowed per game last season could easily come close to 300 this season, especially considering LSU and Notre Dame are on the non-conference schedule.
Rating: 1

Overtime: The Verdict
2008 Record: (0-12, 0-9)/(5-7, 4-5)
2009 Projected Record: (3-9, 1-8)/TBA
2009 Projected Pac-10 Finish: 9th/TBA

I'm feeling generous today. Give Washington Idaho and give them Washington State. Now I don't think they beat anyone else, especially considering they get Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State on the road, versus Cal, Oregon, Arizona and USC at home. Out of deference to their -17 turnover ratio last year, which has to improve, and the horrific spate of injuries last year, which have to relent, we'll call for an upset somewhere in conference, so that's three wins. I know this might not make friends with a lot of the prognosticators who are calling for UW to be resurgent this season, but ball's in your court – exactly where do the wins come from?

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