"Let's get it done"

The 2001 football season was a tale of two sides of the ball. The offense took a step forward, flourishing behind the big-play ability of Cody Pickett, Reggie Williams, and Paul Arnold. The defense, however, fell off the charts, allowing an average of 26.9 points per game, including single-game marks of 65 to Miami, 49 to Oregon State, and 47 to Texas.

By season's end, the Huskies' record fell to 8-4 and the season totals showed that they had been outscored 323 to 310.

"We weren't very good," said defensive coordinator Tim Hundley.

Hundley says, though, that it wasn't due to a lack of effort or willingness. "I didn't have one kid who asked me before any of those games if it'd be okay if we got our butts kicked," he said. "People say that it's because of the injuries, but we had 11 guys still, and there is always a way to get it done I think."

The most alarming weakness to the defense a year ago was on the defensive line. Washington struggled to put pressure on the quarterback, and often times paid the price dearly as a result. Against Cal, Arizona State, Oregon State, Miami, and Texas, the Husky defense gave up a combined 15 touchdowns through the air while reaching the quarterback for a mere three sacks. For the season, the Purple and Gold only recorded 20 sacks, five fewer than the opposition.

To state the obvious, that doesn't bode well for the secondary. In the game of football, defensive backs are always at a disadvantage. They don't know what play is coming. They have to stay with quick receivers - wherever they may go - with their back turned to the ball. Simply put, a star receiver can beat a star cornerback almost every time. An average receiver can beat an average cornerback at the same rate. Jerry Rice in his prime would have beaten Deion Sanders nine times out of ten.

So when your defensive front can't force the action, most quarterbacks, given time in the pocket to find open receivers, can take advantage and pick apart the secondary. That's true even in Division-I football, and was never more evident than in the 2001 Holiday Bowl when Texas quarterback Major Applewhite completed 37 of 55 passes for four touchdowns.

Following the forgettable bowl game in San Diego, Calif., Hundley and the rest of the defensive staff returned home to Seattle to harsh criticism. Everyone from media members to faithful fans wondered what had happened to the great Husky defenses of the past.

"The guy who is generally responsible is the defensive coordinator, that is what I am," said Hundley. "I don't know how anything is unfairly said. I don't listen to a lot of it, but I can certainly imagine that it isn't a positive. That's part of the deal."

Hundley says that the coaches learned a lot from the Texas game. "There are certainly things that could have been done to finish with a win," he said. "One play would have been good. Sometimes that boils down to matching guys up as best as you can. Move on until you get it done. When they spread you out and you are out there on single coverage, the chances of getting help aren't real good.

"There were some real jump balls, and somebody has got to get those. You'd like to have it be you, but it wasn't us ever in that situation. Those balls were catchable by someone, and it needs to be us sometimes."

Over the past eight months, the focus in Montlake has been on fixing all that was broken on the defense a season ago. Much has changed. Larry Tripplett and Marcus Roberson, the leaders of the defensive line in 2001, both graduated. In their place juniors Terry Johnson and Jerome Stevens will be asked to step up and really come into their own. Kai Ellis had knee surgery, and hopes to contribute more like the monster player he was while at San Francisco Community College.

Jafar Williams returns for his fifth season to play SAM linebacker after red-shirting last season with nagging injuries. Manase Hopoi assumes the starting role at defensive end following an impressive season on the scout team.

Omare Lowe graduated, but sophomore cornerback Derrick Johnson is back after a red-shirt season and figures to start. The same can be said for Jimmy Newell, who sat out last season but is likely the number one option at free safety. Red-shirt freshmen safeties James Sims Jr. and Evan Benjamin have progressed very well and will provide more depth at the position than last year. Joe Lobendahn used an eye-opening spring to propel himself into a much more prominent role at WIL linebacker.

And aside from depth chart changes, the personnel has changed on the coaching staff as well. Chuck Heater, who coached cornerbacks during his first three seasons at Washington, has moved to the offensive side of the ball to guide the running backs. In his place, Bobby Hauck's role has expanded. Hauck coached strictly safeties and special teams from 1999-2001, but this year will be in charge of the entire secondary - both cornerbacks and safeties. Another change is at inside linebacker, where Tom Williams left to become a co-defensive coordinator at Stanford. Cornell Jackson joins the staff from the University of Houston, and takes over at the position. He's implemented a more instinctual approach to linebacking, and has a very solid group to work with.

Hundley is impressed with what he's seen from Jackson. "I think he's a very fine teacher," said the defensive coordinator. "He's very good with our kids. He works real hard. He's a solid, solid football coach. You hate to lose guys at any time, but when you replace them with quality guys it's good. Cornell is a quality guy."

Alternating Hauck's coaching role has also worked well, according to Hundley. "Bobby has got a lot to do in his new role," Hundley said. "We lost a guy with a lot of expertise and a guy that worked hard in Chuck Heater, but to have five guys on offense is really a good thing. Bobby has some of Chuck's knowledge and has worked hard at it too.

"I'm excited about both those guys. They both work hard, are very good coaches, and I'm pleased with what they did in the spring. They are good teachers."

The changes from last year to this year are numerous. Gone are several key defensive contributors from a season ago, but in their place is a cast of new characters who are ready to get after it. The team is eager to get back out on the field and wash the bad taste out of their mouths from the disappointing end to the 2001 season.

Hundley says he doesn't see why the defense can't be better this time around. "We have willing players, we have willing assistants, let's get it done."

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