April 30, 2012

Defense stars for Huskies during spring game

A crowd of 11,802 gathered at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Saturday to watch the University of Washington football team in its annual spring game.

The biggest difference between this spring game and those in the past is this one was played offense versus defense. The defense won 36-10.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian thought the scoring formula they came up with still allowed for competitiveness on both sides of the ball.

"The defense showed what the score really resembled the play on the field. The defense won on the field and ultimately they won on the scoreboard," Sarkisian said.

There were various areas where Sarkisian thought the defense did a good job. One was that they lined up well and didn't get caught in the wrong spots. Another area was that the defense played aggressively and enthusiastically.

But the biggest thing Saturday about the defense was the one-on-one situations.

"They won a lot of the one-on-one battles, especially down the field, the ball in the air, they closed on the ball, they were confident closing on the ball in the back end, and they made plays," Sarkisian said. "So that was extremely encouraging."

The defense got a lot of stops, in large part to the work of the defensive line. There were 99 rushing yards for gain, 79 for loss, 325 receiving yards and seven sacks.

But Sarkisian said he's not really concerned about the offense, because the mistakes made were correctable. He said the younger guys got valuable reps at their positions and will be able to develop from that. With some of the older players returning from injuries, Sarkisian thinks they will be able to protect their quarterback better once the season starts.

Quarterback Keith Price appreciates the challenges that defensive ends like Josh Shirley give the offensive linemen.

"(Shirley's) good. He's fast. He's not doing anything but getting our tackles better. They're probably not going to see anybody as fast as Josh all season, so it's good work for them," Price said.

During the spring, the defense beat the offense fairly often. This encourages Sarkisian.

"I'm fired up that we're getting stops on defense, quite honestly, because there are going to be Saturdays when we're not right on offense, there are going to be Saturdays when we do false start or we do have a holding," Sarkisian said. "When your defense is playing this way and you can win the field position battle and get some short fields to get your momentum back, that's encouraging, and that's team football."

Saturday played out like one of those days where the offense would need the defense to give them a break in field position.

One area that Sarkisian could knock the defense on was not getting any turnovers, having also dropped a couple potential interceptions.

The key, then, is to continue to grow and learn to create turnovers so they can change the momentum of the game.

Some of the offensive lag may have been from some of their big players not being featured as much during the spring game. Austin Seferian-Jenkins didn't have any receiving yards.

Bishop Sankey took most carries as running back. He had 11 carries compared to Jesse Callier's two carries.

Sankey rushed for 35 yards and had 51 receiving yards, the most on the team in both areas.

Receiving is one area Sankey has continued to improve upon.

"That's definitely something I've been working at pretty long throughout the offseason and I'm glad I got the chance to show that," Sankey said.

The defense showed they have made improvement since last season, but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox acknowledged they still have a long way to go.

He said they have made progress in their effort and toughness, and their tackling has improved, but "we're not close to where we need to be."

Sarkisian agreed.

"Justin (Wilcox) would be the first one to tell you we're not where we need to be yet, but we took the necessary steps to send us into the summer and then ultimately into fall camp, taking the proper steps to get us into a position where we can now latch back on…and continue to grow," Sarkisian said.

Offensively, Price also can name areas where he can continue to grow. The mistakes made early on by the offense are correctable, starting with Price, according to Price himself.

"I've got to come out and bring more energy. I don't think my energy level was where it needed to be today and I think that's probably why the offense didn't get off to a (good) start," Price said.

The offense obviously lagged in the first half, with the score to show for it. At halftime, the scoreboard read Defense 21, Offense 3.

Price threw for 36 yards in the first half. He then came back in the second half to throw for 132, ending the game with a final of 168. Price and Derrick Brown took turns at quarterback. Thomas Vincent threw for one series.

Sarkisian said he partially agrees with Price's statement about his energy level. He said that he has seen Price more excited and energetic, and as a team, they pride themselves in the energy possessed at the quarterback position.

Although Sarkisian said Price's lack of energy isn't an excuse for the rest of the players, he does acknowledge a sort of normalcy Price's energy gives the team.

Players have "learned to feed off of Keith, and he accepts it, and that's what makes him a great leader," Sarkisian said.

The energy was amped up a few times. First, when Price passed the ball to Callier, who then threw a 17 yard pass to Price. Then when walk-on place kicker Erik Nothstein made a 37-yard field goal.
And again when fullback Jonathan Amosa caught a pass from Price and ran 23 yards for a touchdown.

But the defense was the obviously more energized "team" during Saturday's game. Their man-to-man coverage was sticky and effective and their pass rushing game was good.

Wilcox said both the offense and the defense were "vanilla," and although some good things happened, there should be plenty to clean up after he watches the tape.

After the spring game, the Huskies see what areas they still need to focus on. They didn't seem too concerned. Rather, they're eager to improve.

Quick hits

Spring game captains were Sean Parker, Desmond Trufant and Keith Price. ...

Drew Schaefer geared up, but didn't see much playing time. ...

James Johnson was in full gear and played a few downs. He had the most receptions, six, and 42 receiving yards. ...

Derrick Brown threw for 129 yards. ...

Andrew Hudson and Taz Stevenson both led in tackles with six each.

Hudson had two sacks, Drew Schultz had one, Connor Cree had one, Corey Waller had two and Alec Kimble had one. Price was sacked twice and Brown was sacked five times. ...

Travis Feeney and James Sample played in red no-contact jerseys.



 

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