No Defense for Alamo Performance

SAN ANTONIO - With just 48 seconds left in the first quarter, Steve Sarkisian was already thinking worst-case scenario. Down 21-7 and the Baylor Bears having amassed 245 total yards of offense, it wasn't just a matter of Sarkisian naturally returning to his own roots; he was thinking that way as a matter of necessity.

Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III had orchestrated Baylor's 'basketball on grass' offense to absolute perfection Thursday during their opening drive of what would end up being a 67-56 shootout at the Alamo Bowl. Washington was used to seeing up-tempo; this was high octane.

The Huskies' Cort Dennison - who had made two big stops to open the game - had barely picked himself up off the Alamodome turf when Griffin began the Bears' next play - a 25-yard scamper and heave to Tevin Reese for 25 yards.

And we were off!

By the beginning of the second quarter, Sarkisian admitted post-game that he would have thought seriously about going for it on fourth down inside his own 20. The Huskies, who broke out all white uniforms and helmets for the first time in school history, had already hoisted the white flag when trying to defend Griffin and company.

"We had to score," Sarkisian would simply say. "We just knew that we needed to score," added UW quarterback Keith Price. "We needed to score fast, just to give our defensive a boost."

The fifth-largest Alamo Bowl crowd ever did get to see some real pyrotechnics: Both teams combined for the most Alamo Bowl points ever in the first quarter, half, third quarter and for the game; Baylor's 67 points were the most ever scored by an FBS team in bowl history; both teams combined for the most points ever scored in regulation in a bowl game; they obliterated the old combined yardage mark for a bowl game by 186 yards; the Bears established an FBS bowl record with 777 yards of offense.

Husky running back Chris Polk, in a race to become Washington's all-time leading rusher, finished the year a painfully-close 57 yards away from Napoleon Kaufman's mark of 4,106 after rumbling and bumbling and stumbling his way BEAST MODE style to 147 yards against BU.

Senior wide receiver Jermaine Kearse finished his UW career on an emphatic high note, catching five balls for 198 yards and a touchdown - an 80-yard thing of beauty. And Price? The sophomore sensation had arguably his best game of the year, unloading for 438 yards and four touchdowns against a hapless Baylor secondary.

And this could very well have been Josh Shirley's coming-out party, sacking Griffin three times. Too bad he was the one of only a couple guys on the defensive side of the ball that bothered to show up. Washington brought from Seattle their defensive futility - which had been borderline history-making all season long - and it went headfirst into the abyss without much of a fight. "I'll say the Valero Alamo Bowl and ESPN got what they were hoping for tonight," Sarkisian said.

I'm sure Baylor fans were tickled green and gold. But what about Washington's fans?

First of all, they really didn't get the return on the financial investment they put in defensive coordinator Nick Holt. Some quick calculations had Holt earning roughly $1400 per point given up by his defense in 2011. Six Hundred and Fifty Thousand dollars doesn't spend nearly as well as it did 20 years ago on Montlake. Somewhere tonight Jim Lambright is crying in his beer.

The 777 yards surrendered to the Bears was only a couple hundred more than what Baylor was averaging all year long, Sarkisian was quick to point out. "They weren't the No. 2 offense in the country just for a fluke," he reminded the media afterward. "They were good."

Still, it ended up being the most any UW defense has ever handed over to another team in the history of the program.

Sarkisian talks eloquently about his love for college football, citing the 'pageantry' of the sport - how he soaks up every detail, from the camera angles to the confetti and balloons that came floating down from the Alamodome rafters as soon as the clock struck quadruple zeros.

But even he would have to admit there was little pageantry in the defensive effort of either team Thursday, especially his own. "I think the part that was disappointing was the number of big plays that occurred," he said post-game. "That's the part that I think was the most frustrating aspect of it all."

Beware, this part might get some queasy for those that don't have a strong stomach for such stuff, but here goes; Baylor had 10 drives in the game where they scored points; UW gave up 13 plays of over 15 yards, five over 35 yards. Baylor running back Terrence Ganaway had two touchdowns straight through the heart of the Huskies' D, without a single hand touching him that totaled 132 of his 200 yards.

Dare I continue?

Look - everyone with a pulse that had a stake in this game knew it was destined to be a good old-fashioned Texas-sized shootout. But that meant 45-42, or something within a modicum of reason. 67-56? Hell, California and USC didn't score that many points Thursday night. Playing basketball. In fact, Washington and Baylor out-scored the other Bears and Trojans by three touchdowns! That's 21 points in hoop-speak.

Any way you slice it, this game was never going to be a defensive showcase for either team. In fact, Baylor came into the Alamo Bowl with weaker defensive statistics than the Huskies. But that doesn't excuse the fact for a defensive effort that was simply non-existent. Tackles were blown, gap integrity evaporated, leverage completely shot to hell.

As bad as 2011 has been for Nick Holt, this game exposed all the flaws. This wasn't the same group that rebounded from a 35-point sucker-punch at the hands of Nebraska and threw it right back in the faces of those unrepentant Huskers. Instead, Baylor exploited UW in just about every way conceivable.

And Sarkisian knew it with 15 minutes to go 'til halftime. That's not a sign of progress. Even those in the press box so enamored with offense they spend every waking minute breaking down film on every pass thrown, every run conceived and every block made were driven to near-nausea at the complete lack of anything resembling a defense.

"I like offense a lot," they would say. "But not that much."

Sarkisian also said after the game that they will immediately go through the process of hiring a coach to fill the gap left by UCLA-bound Demetrice Martin. Coaches never get a second chance to make their first hires, and Sarkisian did well to get Martin, as well as Johnny Nansen, when he was first hired at Washington. They hit the ground running, recruited their butts off, and supplied the program with some much needed energy and a positive attitude.

But now, more than anything, Baylor's walkover underscored glaring defensive deficiencies - issues with fundamentals like tackling and coverage - that haven't gotten better over time. Sarkisian needed recruiters when he first came to UW in order to re-stock the cupboard; now that there's talent in numbers it feels like a move toward hiring a coach with a solid foundation and track record of success is the right call on Sark's post-season playsheet.

You can argue this next defensive appointment could be Coach Sark's most important ever. With coaches out there like former colleague Rocky Seto, Sarkisian could not only re-arrange his defensive staff, he could completely remake it. If he saw fit, he could make Holt and Seto co-coordinators, for instance - or even put Seto completely in charge. That would be a ballsy move, one that would be a personal and professional affront to a competitor like Holt, but the reality is this - what leg does he have to stand on?

"Everything we do in our program will be evaluated, myself included," Sarkisian said. "We've got to figure out some issues of why things are the way they are, and how we can improve as a football team in all three phases and beyond that, more than just the three phases on the field. Off the field as well. It's obvious we need to improve. We need to get better on the defensive side of the ball, and it'll be addressed and addressed as quickly as possible.

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