Defense in the spotlight – Part III

It is late in the fourth quarter and Washington leads USC by a touchdown. Then Carson Palmer drops back, avoids a Husky sack, and lofts a ball towards two receivers that are running right into one another with Husky defenders right in position. Then a jump ball ensues and Trojan receiver Kareem Kelly comes away with the ball and races unmolested into the Husky endzone for the tie with just 3:47 left.

It's at times agonizing how well you can see plays develop from the press box. Especially when you are Tim Hundley and you're responsible for the defensive call that just gave up that bomb.

"It's not really a helpless feeling when something goes wrong because the view from the sideline is just as bad when a mistake is made," said Hundley with a slight grin.

You can't run out on the field and make a tackle, but you certainly get a good view of it when someone makes a play. The view from up there is outstanding. We have the best seat in the house so we can see most everything that happens. You do miss the emotion of being on the sidelines, but the eyes are best from the press box."

During the game, Hundley spreads out a bit in his coach's box and always has his call sheet and game plan with him at arms reach. "We keep those near and what we look for are what the personnel groupings are, and what the down and distance is. That is how you formulate most of what you do."

You also have to be able to react and change very quickly. Pac-10 offensive coordinators will throw the kitchen sink at your defense. "You have to react to what they do. Most of what we see is charted upstairs so we know how they are trying to attack us by both formation and down and distance. You need to be able to adjust accordingly," explains Hundley.

You also must be able to bounce back from a terrible outing in less than a week, which is exactly what the defensive staff did after a horrible showing at Oregon State. Hundley calls that game the worst in terms of execution, but he and his staff put together a beauty the following week to send favored Washington State home with a loss.

"It is always good to be able to dictate what the offense can or cannot do, but it isn't always something you can do. When you can, and you are one step ahead and in sync, it's a great feeling."

Washington was unable to stop Miami, who came up with an amazing seven turnovers, including six interceptions. The defense "held" the Hurricanes to 400 yards but it didn't stop them from torching them for 65 points. That really smart. Washington was just about able to bounce back as they made a very solid showing for three quarters against Texas, holding the heavily favored Longhorns to just 20 points while the offense had mustered 36 by the end of three quarters. They came up with three interceptions in the second quarter alone.

Unfortunately the Husky secondary was unable to stop Texas' Major Applewhite, who torched the defense for huge gains in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 473 yards passing. The coupe de grace came when he led the Longhorns 80 yards in just 71 seconds for the win. Applewhite was 4-of-5 for 75 yards on the drive. He hit Bo Scaife for 12 yards, B.J. Johnson for 25 yards, Scaife for six more, and then a 32-yarder to Johnson again which set up the final 3-yard TD run by Ivan Williams.

"That was a painful loss. We had that one won, we should've never lost that game," said Hundley. "We just couldn't make plays on the ball."

So what goes on at halftime of a football game? Everyone sees the band take the field but what do the coaches and players do?

While the players decompress and talk among themselves, the coaches are already busy making sure they are all on the same page. "The first thing we do is get together as a staff for about five minutes and look at the hit charts to find out where they have been attacking us," said Hundley of the defensive coaches.

"You address any formation issues and then you look at the plays that have been trouble. You look at why a pass play or running play has been an issue to that point. We do that as a staff and then we decide how we'll stop those plays or formations."

All of that takes place in about five minutes.

"Then we take about five minutes to visit with our team in general, and then we break up into individual groups so each assistant can talk with his players about things that happened. Sometimes they are big things, sometimes they are minimal, depending on what we see. Your issues are addressed and need to be corrected. Hopefully you have some things built into your system to where you can adjust to the problems you're having," said Hundley.

"If it's an issue of personnel, there isn't a whole lot you can say other than, ‘Make the tackle.' Or ‘Make a play on the ball.' If it's a scheme issue, those are things you can correct."
Part I: Goals for this spring
Part II: Is it a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense?

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