The man at the center of one of the most hotly debated topics in Seattle sports this week — the state of the Washington Husky defense — stepped into the media spotlight Tuesday.
And Nick Holt, UW’s defensive coordinator, insisted during a roughly 10-minute sessions with reporters after Tuesday’s practice that the Husky defense has improved during his tenure.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said, “Yeah, yeah, I do. I do.”
Holt said that the team’s record is proof that the defense is in a better state now than when he took it over prior to the 2009 season.
“Winning and losing, and there are probably a couple of stats that are better,” he said. “Wait until the end of the year and then let’s look at the numbers. We are 5-2 and we haven’t been 5-2 in three years, either. And (UW is) playing some good offenses — the wins and losses are the most important.”
Asked if the defense is where he thought it would be at this point, he said: “Just still young at a lot of key positions. We just have to keep coaching them. There’s a lot of things I could say; we’ve just got to keep getting better. We’re 5-2 in our third year. We go to a bowl game our second year, so it’s on course. Obviously we’d love to be 7-0 right now, but we’re 5-2. We have a chance to come home and play Arizona – a great offensive team, a great quarterback, great skill. We have to play our butts off to get to 6-2.”
While the Huskies are indeed 5-2 this year, they also have allowed 51 points to Nebraska and then 65 last week to Stanford, the latter tying the second-most in school history.
Asked what it was like watching the film of that game, Holt said: “Painful. I didn’t really need to watch the film because that just made it horrible twice. It was kind of what it looked like out there.”
Asked what his assessment of that game was after watching the film, he said: “Assessment is we’ve got to get back, and we’ve got to get ready for Arizona because they’re a good offense too, just in a different way. We just need to compete. There’s a couple guys that did a nice job and competed for all four quarters, and we just needed more of that. We got on our heels early. First play, reverse, and we didn’t rebound. And some of our leaders need to come up for some big plays for us to get momentum back and get our confidence back a little bit because we got a little shaken early. It would’ve been nice to have that interception in the end zone early, and some of the other guys, it would’ve been nice to come up with the sack, come up with a couple third-down stops in the first half, which we let them out. So that was disappointing.”
Asked what he could have done different, he said: “We could’ve just, ‘OK, let’s get after these guys,’ and hopefully they bust something or get after the quarterback a little bit. The problem was they screen you so much on passing situations, it’s hard to blitz them because they pop a screen, and they were doing a lot of empty on passing situations and getting rid of the ball real quick. We played a lot of man-to-man, and one time we didn’t cover the guy as close as we needed to, the beginning of the second quarter when they got that third down-and-five, we were playing Cover-Zero, and we pressured, and the guy got the ball out of his hand, and we weren’t as tight in our Cover-Zero as we need to be. So looking back on that. The problem is we had them at 17-14 in the second quarter, and then that first play from scrimmage they pop a run out of big personnel, and it goes for 70, and it’s 24-14 again. We were scrapping, scrapping, and we’d almost kind of took care of our problems in all that big stuff, we were starting to play it well, and then we got misaligned, and we were out of our gap, and the guy hit it perfectly, and we had a couple guys overrun it that didn’t see it pop. And the guy hurt us. And good teams are going to do that.”
He also said the manner in which Stanford runs its offensive is unique. “Most offensive coordinator guys don’t put in extra offensive linemen and get a kick out of that,” he said. “Stanford has the depth and the offensive linemen that they’ll do it. I think they do it because they want the good opposing offenses like ourselves and some other good schools to control the ball, so they want to slow down the tempo and make you have to play that game. And then they have a quarterback that can throw it. So there’s another set of problem. They are a really good team, a really, really good team because they are good at running the ball and they are good at throwing the ball.”
Here’s what he said about a few other topics:
— On adjusting now to playing a spread passing team like Arizona: “That’s the beauty of this confrerence. That makes it fun. Yeah, it’s fun. It’s good. It keeps you up at night. And then the next week you have a whole different set of problems. It’s just this conference. It’s a fantastic conference. There’s some great offensive players, great offensive coaches and it keeps us on our toes.”
— On if Arizona is similar to some of the passing teams UW played earlier in the year: “Hawaii. I mean as quick. I haven’t timed it yet. .It’s pretty similar. This guy is a lot bigger. He’s not as mobile as the guy from Hawaii, but he probably has a stronger arm and he sees, boy, he’s really accurate.”
— On if it’s helped to have played teams like Eastern and Hawaii in preparing for Arizona: “A little, being spread out. We still have to cover these guys. These guys receivers are a little bit better than the other schools. Bigger. Big guys.”
— On what UW needs to do to defend against Arizona receiver Juron Criner: “Well, have to do a nice job of disrupting at the line of scirmmage and giving the quarterback different looks so he can get a bead on him and get some double coverage on the guy.”
— On how the players have reacted to the loss: “Our guys are pretty resilient. The young guys are young – they try and do what you ask them to do. We need to learn from this, like some of the other examples that we’ve had, and we’ve got to go because we’ve got to get ready for Saturday night. We can’t be moping around. We’ve got to tear off the rearview mirror and move forward, or else. We’re facing some good offenses here.”
— On what needs to happen with Alameda Ta’amu for him to be the player everyone thinks he can be – “I think sometimes it’s a little unfair. Sometimes we expect these guys to be giant killers, and maybe that’s a little unfair sometimes to ask some of these guys…I think he’s trying. I think he’s playing hard. You’d just love to see him be a little more productive in some of these. We’ve talked about it, and he understands. You just don’t want him to start trying too hard where he gets worse – or it’s not productive. It just has to keep on coming, you have to do some things…”
— On Will Shamburger getting more time with the No. 1 defense this week at free safety: “That was a bright spot. I was talking about some of the guys that competed for four quarters, and he was one of those guys that was competing and hitting and tackling well and was really physical, kind of like…boom! A nice safety does. So that was good, and he’s one of the guys that’s getting better and better and better. It’s good to see. I thought that Sean Parker did some really good things in the game. So there were some positive things that came about it, and as leaders we need to accentuate the positive, coach up the bad stuff and move on.”
Here’s some video of Holt’s session with the media:
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