For my main story for Monday’s paper, I wrote about the UW defense, which showed marked improvement over the final two games of the season.
In fact, consider that it was the first time UW had allowed as few as 10 points over a two-game span since the 1992 season when the Huskies were ranked No. 1 in the country (a 24-3 win over Oregon and 31-7 over Pacific). The last time UW had allowed fewer points in a two-game span against conference foes was the magical 1991 season (14-3 win over USC followed by 58-6 win over Oregon State).
Sure, one of the games may have been against a terrible WSU team. But the Cal win gave a lot of validity to the defensive improvement apparent against the Cougars.
Though as Holt said, he thinks the defense actually began playing a lot better after the first bye week, following the Oregon game, especially in terms of rushing the passer. UW had three sacks against UCLA, then three more against Oregon State. Some big passing plays helped the UCLA game get away, and the defense was hurt by a lot of short fields against Oregon State, so the improvement was harder to see.
But it all began to come together against WSU and continued against Cal.
“We have gotten better throughout the season,” Holt said. “There have been some times where we have made some mistakes, but our kids are playing with confidence because they really know what they are doing and flying around and not thinking and just playing and reacting. And that’s what’s happened this last month. We really haven’t changed the scheme much, a few wrinkles here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary. They are just playing it really well.”
The linked story goes into more detail on the defense’s improvement.
Here are a few other notes from what Holt said after the game:
— Holt said there weren’t a lot more blitzes called the last few games even if it may have looked like it given how the Huskies were getting to the quarterback. “There might have been one or two more calls of pressure,” he said. “But the kids are just getting better at what they are doing. That’s really what it is. There’s a change up here, a change up there. But our secondary is getting better, our corners are getting better, so some stuff is a little tighter. The quarterback is holding on to the ball (longer) and we’re giving some different looks and disguises and changing some stuff up. But it’s stuff we’ve had in our game plan. We are just executing it really well.”
— On expectations for next season: “The expectations are really high. Always, always going to be really high, because that’s who we are as a staff and a football program. We need to replace Daniel (Te’o-Nesheim) and Donald Butler and find guys to replace those guys. And there will be somebody who is going to step up. Guys are going to get better, freshmen are going to come in and help us out. So we are not changing our expectations.”
— On the free safety spot going into next year: “I think Nate Fellner is going to be a really good football player the more he is in our system, the more confidence he is doing to play with and the faster he is going to play. If you watch him, he’s a great, great hitter. He just needs to keep playing football and learn the nuances of the calls and how to disguise. But he is good. We are lucky he got as many reps as he did this year.”
— More on the safety spot and the secondary: “The guy who got a lot better this year is Nate Williams. He is a solid strong safety. So with those two guys (Fellner, Williams), we have two good safeties coming back. Those two guys going into spring ball, I feel real confident, and we should get more depth. Looking at our two corners, they are two freshmen, and they will get better and stronger. And more guys will come in and there will be more competition so that everyone is going to get better.”
— On Cort Dennison: “Cort is just a great football player for us, what we ask him to do. He does everything correctly. He is extremely intelligent and really, really tough. He might not run 4.6, 4.7. But he’s around the ball all the time because he has great instincts, and you can win championships with guys like Cort Dennison. So he has two more years and will only get better. He does a good job, as good as anybody, getting guys lined up and knowing what to do.”