Many people doubted Coach Barry Alvarez when he insisted during the offseason that his defensive line would be better this year, even without first-round draft pick Wendell Bryant.
But two games into the season, it looks like Alvarez could be right. The emergence of Jake Sprague coming off a medical redshirt season, along with the healthy return of Darius Jones and a 30-pounds heavier Erasmus James has made a tremendous difference in the front unit.
And it's the big bodies in the middle that have been a force against the running game and made opponents try to beat the UW defense elsewhere. Sophomore Anttaj Hawthorne said the early success of the defensive front has caused opponents to resort to holding to try to gain an advantage.
"It's been pretty bad. Especially against (UNLV)," Hawthorne said. "There's pretty much holding on every play, but sometimes it gets ridiculous. Guys jumping on your back, guys hugging you, not letting go of you. I mean, it's been really bad."
Hawthorne said if the refs don't call holding, the only other defense is to beat the offensive lineman straight off the ball.
"You pretty much just try to get separation on the guy. If you beat him, he won't be able to get his hands on you. Just get by him as quick as possible," Hawthorne said.
Hawthorne said there is a growing confidence amongst the line, which stems from their early success, increased experience and solid conditioning. Hawthorne said the line is bigger, faster and healthier than it was last year.
And starting the last two games of 2001 helped Hawthorne get a jumpstart on his sophomore campaign.
"I know how things go. I know how the game progresses," Hawthorne said. "The speed of the game is very important, and I think I pretty well adapted to that last year. I think one of the things that's helped me out this year is being under Coach (John) Dettmann's lifting program. That helped me out a lot. He got us in pretty good condition to play this year…I feel good about what's going on with this defense."
Hawthorne talks about early success
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