Ex-Husky Meamber analyzes the defense

A few years back, I was discussing the famous "Purple Reign Defense" of 1984 with former Husky safety Jimmy Rodgers. When the topic of his old teammate Tim Meamber came up, Rodgers said, "Meamber was one tough SOB. He played football like he had just come out of the woods."

This past Sunday morning, I sat with Meamber at an office in Bellevue. When we began dissecting the Washington-Ohio State game, the former Husky and Minnesota Viking linebacker got so worked up, I thought he was going to smash his own forehead through the conference room table. Meamber had a sideline pass for the game, and positioned himself specifically to watch the defense.

"I watched the game from the end zone," he said, "so I can read the guards from a linebacker's perspective. I'm telling you, our inside linebackers don't read both guards. If you don't read both guards, the offense is going to start trapping. And if the offense starts trapping while your inside linebackers aren't reading both guards, your backers are going to get creamed by the offensive tackles coming down—and that creates large holes in the defense.

"Ohio State came out running power runs right at us," he said. "Then in the second quarter they started doing a little trapping. Once they started trapping, they realized that their tackles were getting down on our middle backers. We never adjusted. At that point, it became very evident to me that Ohio State was going to run traps all day long—and that's what they did. I think our linebackers must be keying on the backfield. And that runs contrary to everything that (former UW coach) Jim Lambright taught us and what I know to be right about playing linebacker… The thing to remember is that an offensive line only has about eight blocking schemes, and the entire line has to block in unison on each of them. As a defender, once you develop a knowledge of that, then you can make plays." Meamber was asked what went wrong for Washington during a series of second-half draw plays that Ohio State ran for big chunks of yardage.

"When a linebacker plays a pass situation and is going to drop (into coverage), he must maintain position and wait for the quarterback to get past the (running) back before he makes his drop. Our linebackers were immediately releasing back into pass coverage, and they would be seven yards downfield when the running backs were handed the football. That kind of reaction creates a giant hole in the defense. The inside backers also have to be pinching to keep a draw play inside. Ohio State was running the draw play and getting their running backs outside the middle backers, and there were no Huskies there to make a play.

"I talked to (former UW assistant coach) Dick Baird after the game," said Meamber. "He told me that we are a gap control defense. And then at a Saturday night function, I had words with (linebacker coach) Chris Tormey, and he got a little irritated with me. And then I went straight to Coach (Tyrone) Willingham and I said `I want to know who your linebackers are reading, because they're not reading the guards—and they're getting clobbered!' I told him that the inside backer play was atrocious. The Huskies have got good speed at linebacker and they have some athletic ability. But if you're not taught to read both guards, you're in trouble. You will be at a disadvantage. It takes time, patience and understanding to teach the players, but it's something that has to be done at this level - and we're not doing it right now.

"I'm not trying to call out the coaching staff, but I'm going to call it like I see it," said Meamber. "I spoke with Lambright, who taught me how to be a linebacker, and he agreed with me about this situation. Something has got to be done. I know Chris Tormey has a history of coaching outside linebackers, but our inside linebackers are not being taught properly. We need to change the way we're coaching our players." It was mentioned that several Husky defenders lack experience and will improve with time. Meamber went on to cite certain other intangibles that he feels Washington lacks.

"On defense, we are missing leadership," he said. "When the team got tired against Ohio State, everyone was flat. I am waiting for someone to emerge as a leader on that defense. When you're tired, that's when you've got to play with emotion. The things that I don't see are the emotion, enthusiasm, intensity and leadership on the Husky defense. Against Ohio State, our defense got tired and was just standing there waiting for the offense to break the huddle. Right there, somebody's got to take charge, and fire our guys up! They need to say, `Let's get the hell off the field--NOW!' Heading into the fourth quarter, we looked mentally, physically and emotionally defeated. Everyone in the stadium knew it was over. Why? Because our team looked defeated and our defense looked defeated.

"You also don't see enough emotion from them when they come out of the tunnel," continued Meamber. "That tunnel is hallowed, sacred ground. I don't care if what I'm saying is politically incorrect. They did away with the `Say Who' chant several years ago because it was considered too profane. Well, I don't care if the players have to run 10 (expletive) 100s, the `Say Who' chant has got to come back! It starts with that chant, it's Husky tradition. I don't care if the University President tells them to stop it, they've got to get that intensity back! I don't care what the sanctions are. That chant and that mentality gets you jacked up, it intimidates the opponent. The whole tunnel echoes with that chant. Who cares what the non-football people say. Get it done!"

The interview concluded by discussing the current positive aspects of Husky football. Namely: Quarterback Jake Locker. "If Locker stays around for his four-year career, he will be a Heisman candidate his junior year and he will win it his senior year," said Meamber. "Right now, he is the offense. We've got three redshirt freshmen on the offensive line. We've got an offense that can move the ball, but we're missing a few pieces. But defense wins championships, man. We will never win another championship around here until we get back to playing tough defenses like we had under Lambright… It's true that Ohio State physically overmatched us. But football is like life: If you ain't had your ass kicked at some point, you ain't been in a fight. There's always going to be a time when the guy across from you is better. But you had better figure out a way to beat him anyway!

"Purple and gold is the center of my universe," said Meamber. "I care. It's heart-breaking to see what we've gone through in recent years, and I want us back on top. I want the coaches to think about these things and I want the players to read these words and think about these things. When it's late in the game and the defense is (losing ground), I want someone on that defense to step forward and fire the guys up. Take it upon yourself. Be a (expletive) leader!"
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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