Hau’oli Kikaha isn’t letting the Huskies’ young defensive backs take all the heat this week.
“You know what I think, personally: The big-time guys need to make big-time plays,” said Kikaha, UW’s senior buck end. “I think some guys may have tried a little too hard, but our front seven has to show up consistently. If that’s our strength, we need to be able to make it a lot easier on those guys in the back end, you know? Unfortunately, we didn’t make it too easy on them. So that’s on us in the front as much as it is on the back.”
The Huskies allowed 475 yards through the air and seven passing touchdowns in a 59-52 victory over Eastern Washington on Saturday. The Huskies tried just about every one they had at cornerback, with limited success.
Kikaha said he appreciates the coaching staff’s positive approach to addressing obvious issues on defense.
“In the past, people have crumbled in that situation,” Kikaha said. “The way that our coaches approach it now is way better than I’ve ever seen. The positive reinforcement should have positive results, and I have full confidence that that will happen.”
With standout junior cornerback Marcus Peters suspended this week, the Huskies will be even younger in the secondary against Illinois on Saturday.
“They definitely are responding well,” Kikaha said. “Everyone knows what each individual has to work on. There’s no secrets. But it’s not like they’re being torn down to where they’re going to go in a tank.”
UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said it hasn’t been difficult to remain positive with UW’s young secondary this week.
“Because they’re giving great effort and their ears are wide open and they’re trying to get better, so that’s all you can ask as a coach,” he said. “If they weren’t giving great effort and trying to get better, then you have issues.”
In hindsight, Kwiatkowski said he probably had the secondary in man-on-man coverage too much against EWU.
“I’ve got to do a better job getting those guys some help,” he said. “(But) you can’t max drop all the time (into coverage). They do have to hold up at some point. It is what it is. You’ve just got to change up the looks and those guys have to just keep plugging away and not get discouraged.”
Defensive back coach Jimmy Lake said he was encouraged by the play of true freshman Sidney Jones, who made his collegiate debut and finished the game at one cornerback spot. Jones and senior Travell Dixon are candidates to start at the corners against Illinois.
“I was very, very proud of Sidney,” Lake said. “Talk about performing under a stressful circumstance: He came in and he played lights out. He played real physical against the run, he played tight coverage, he played nice man coverage. He had the one ball caught on him that was right there — great throw and great catch. Other than that, he played excellent. But he can’t rest on that. He’s got to correct the mistakes he did make and also look at the mistakes the other guys did make and make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes.
“He’s just got to continue to grow. He’s so young — a lot of these guys are young. And every single week, as long as we’re getting that much better, that much better, and we’re not regressing, we’ll be on the right track.”