Huskies seeing Red on Defense

SEATTLE - The numbers aren't pretty. When looking at the statistics for Washington's defense in 2009, there's one thought that keeps getting recycled; they look an awful lot like 2008's defensive numbers. But that team was 0-12 and the 2009 Huskies are 3-3 and looking for more wins. How can that be?

As always, you have to look at the numbers inside the numbers to get a better view of what's happening, and when those are crunched, the easiest conclusion one can draw is that these Dawgs are seeing red

Here are the defensive numbers for 2008 and 2009, by way of comparison:
2008 Rush Defense: 117th (240.58 ypg)
2009 Rush Defense: 82nd (161.33 ypg)
2008 Pass Defense: 62nd (211.17 ypg)
2009 Pass Defense: 102nd (256.67 ypg)
2008 Total Defense: 110th (451.75 ypg)
2009 Total Defense: 106th (418.0 ypg)
2008 Third Down Conversion Defense: 114th (75/152 - 49.34%)
2009 Third Down Conversion Defense: 58th (26/69 - 37.68%)
2008 Red Zone Efficiency Defense: 108th (52/57 - 91%)
2009 Red Zone Efficiency Defense: 70th (25/30 - 83%)
There are two things that stick out; the improvement in the red zone efficiency and the lack of improvement in their pass defense. Yet when you look at the statistics in the context of how effective Washington's defense has been inside the red zone, things start to make some sense.

For instance, Washington has forced 14 3-and-outs this year, 11 in the first three games of the season. They've been solid in stopping teams on third down, but what has killed them is the 15-yard plus pass plays - especially in three of their last four games. Against Idaho, Notre Dame and Arizona, Washington has given up 29 pass plays of 15 yards or more.

But when teams get to UW's red zone, that's obviously not a factor anymore. "You're able to sit on routes and route recognition, and that's a tribute to coach (Jeff) Mills and coach (Demetrice) Martin of our guys locking into route recognition down there and jumping routes," UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. "Even the touchdown pass that Arizona throws, Greg Walker has a great opportunity to make a great play on that ball. So we were on that one as well."

The visitors have spent a lot of time in Washington's red zone - 30 times so far in six games. Only 2-4 UTEP (34), 3-3 Toledo (33), 0-6 Rice (32) and 0-6 New Mexico (30) have been tested as many times as the Huskies inside their own 20 this year in the FBS. And those 30 drives are out of a total of 67 drives against Washington the entire season. So when the opposition is getting into the red zone at a clip of nearly 50 percent, that's never a good thing.

All that being said, the Huskies have done an incredible job of mitigating the potential damage done. Here's some more numbers to munch on.

Percentage of Field Goals Allowed per Red Zone Opportunities:
Oregon State - 2-22 (9%)
Washington State - 4-28 (14%)
Arizona - 2-13 (15%)
Oregon - 3-16 (19%)
Arizona State - 2-8 (25%)
UCLA - 6-15 (40%)
Stanford - 9-22 (41%)
Washington - 14-30 (47%)
California - 7-14 (50%)
USC - 7-13 (54%)
Percentage of Touchdowns Allowed per Red Zone Opportunities:
USC - 3-13 (23%)
Washington - 11-30 (37%)
UCLA - 7-15 (47%)
California - 7-14 (50%)
Oregon - 6-16 (56%)
Washington State - 16-28 (57%)
Stanford - 13-22 (59%)
Arizona State - 5-8 (63%)
Oregon State - 18-22 (82%)
Arizona - 11-13 (85%)
So what to make of it? Well, it means that Washington has done a very strong job of forcing teams into settling for three points per trip. "In the red zone, they are really locked into the calls we're making," Sarkisian said. "For us, it's something to grow on. We need to transition that out to the middle of the field now. The belief in doing what we're supposed to be doing and the effort they play with in the red zone is the same. It shouldn't change when we're out in the field. I think they are understanding that. When you play really hard and you're executing like we are in the red zone on defense, those stops can occur earlier. I'm anticipating that coming."

Part of that growth came Saturday night when Mason Foster blew up an Arizona bubble screen opportunity and as a result forced Arizona's Nick Foles into an ill-advised throw. It bounced off the foot of UA receiver Delashaun Dean and right into the waiting arms of Foster, who scampered 37 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Foster, who earned Pac-10 Player of the Week honors, had that memorable interception - as well as 11 tackles and one tackle for loss.

"As we continue to grow as a defensive football team, our guys will understand the time and the place when to take those shots within the system to make those plays, to create those turnovers, to create those big plays, instead of sitting and waiting the whole time," Sarkisian said. "I think that will come as we get more comfortable with what we're doing."

They might get some help this weekend. Their foe, the Arizona State Sun Devils, are currently eighth in the Pac-10 when it comes to total offense. But for the most part, the Huskies are still just focused on themselves and what they need to do to get their first road win of the year, even though others might be having bigger thoughts.

"That's a long way away," Sarkisian said when asked about having thoughts of going to a bowl. "We've got to worry about Arizona State on the road. We haven't gotten a road victory yet this year. We didn't perform very well at Stanford. I thought we rebounded and performed much better and got used to what it's like to be on the road together, and played much better at Notre Dame. And now hopefully we can kind of just take that next step and find a way to get a 'W' this week."

They'll have to do it against an Arizona State defense that is leading the conference in total defense, rushing defense, interceptions, limiting first downs, opponent third-down conversions and turnover margin.

"They do a nice job in the run game, but then they also do a great job in the pass game because they apply so much pressure on the quarterback," Sarkisian said. "They force the quarterback into bad decisions, throwing the ball into coverage and it allows them to create turnovers."
Injury Report: Greg Christine is out for the season after apparently suffering the same injury that put safety Justin Glenn out as well - meaning a broken fibula compounded by ligament damage in his ankle. "He's got a pretty serious surgery coming this week that will keep him out the entire year," Sarkisian said. "Nick Wood will elevate (into the starting role), and we've got to be able to do some things, whether with Mykenna Ikehara or Drew Schaefer, so that we have enough depth in there to get guys in."

Jake Locker apparently hurt his back when he fumbled against Notre Dame, and appeared to tweak it again Saturday night against Arizona, but he's expected to be fine for Arizona State. Nate Williams and D'Andre Goodwin (concussions) were back out at practice today, as well as Johri Fogerson (flu). Cameron Elisara and E.J. Savannah (stingers) were also both practicing Monday - ah hour-long shirts and shorts practice.

Erickson Ties: There are a few coaches with ties to Arizona State Head Coach Dennis Erickson. Mike Cox played for Erickson at Idaho in 1985 and 1986. Jeff Mills and Joel Thomas both coached under Erickson in 2006 during his second stint in Moscow. And offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto has coached under Erickson in four different places: Oregon State (2000-2002), the San Francisco 49ers (2004), Idaho (2006) and Arizona State (2008).

"It's kind of similar to when we were playing SC," Sarkisian said. "I think there are some great friendships there. The guys have tremendous memories with him. But at the end of the day, Dennis is a great competitor, and so is his entire staff and football team, and I feel the same way about our staff. So we'll go out and compete really well. I'm sure there will be some good smiles and laughs about it afterwards."

Returner by default: It appears Chris Polk will go ahead and be the Huskies' kickoff returner right now, since no one else has stepped up to take the job. His first return to start the game against Arizona took the ball to their 36, and he had another that took the Huskies to their own 46-yard line. The next best return was that of 17 yards by up-man Paul Homer, who took it out to their 41. Quinton Richardson, Curtis Shaw and Cole Sager also had returns for the Huskies against the 'Cats.

"We've tried different guys, and we'll try again this week to look at some guys to give them opportunities, but it just hasn't happened for us yet," Sarkisian said.

Safety looking safer?: The Huskies get Nate Williams back for Arizona State, and Jason Wells appears set to make his first full return to a sideline since the 2007 USC game. As it stands right now, the two starting safeties are still Nate Fellner and Victor Aiyewa, the same players that started against Arizona. "We're trying to get some depth going back there," Sarkisian said. "We were paper thin last week. To get Jason back out there, to get Nate Williams back, it gets us some stability and some depth, some veteran leadership that we're desperately needing."

Facebook is watching: Sarkisian took some time to address the issues facing his team with regard to all the social media networks out there, and how they can track a player's every move and document it online, whether they know it or not.

"With the internet and all of the Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, all the social media and all that's going on right now, we've got to be cognizant of the decisions we're making as a football team," Sarkisian said. "Knock on wood, our guys have been fantastic so far since we've been here. They've handled themselves first class. They're taking care of one another, and that's important. That's what football teams do. As we look forward to the future, I'm not going to sit up here and say that we're going to be perfect, because I don't think anybody is, and any time you have 105 guys, somewhere in there mistakes occur. Hopefully we can learn from other guys and other teams around the country and the possible mistakes that have gotten made and we can keep teaching from those moments to eliminate the opportunities for our guys to make mistakes.

"Things happen. Things occur and they're out there in five minutes. There are camera phones and you can use video and send things out quickly. You better know who you're with and you better know who's around you." Top Stories