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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Washington: What went wrong?

By Ted Miller

Washington's defense is bad. No question.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times took a measure so he could quantify what Huskies fans have been feeling: This defense is historically bad.

Writes Condotta:
Washington is allowing 34.5 points a game, the second-highest in school history behind only the 38.5 allowed by the 2008 team that went 0-12 and prompted the firing of Sarkisian's predecessor, Tyrone Willingham. It's also allowing 430.4 yards per game, third-most in school history behind 2008 (451.8) and 2007 (446.4).

Coordinator Nick Holt is paid $650,000 a year -- most of any defensive coordinator in the Pac-12 not named Monte Kiffin -- to make sure the Huskies don't have a historically-bad defense.

Keith Price
Washingon's offensive line failed to protect quarterback Keith Price and gave up a conference-leading 33 sacks this season.
So, yes, many fans are calling for Holt's head on a platter, while coach Steve Sarkisian ties to advise patience as his Huskies prepare for the Apple Cup on Saturday with rival Washington State.

"It's going to take time," Sarkisian said. "Do I wish we were better? Sure. But the reality of it is, let's go win Saturday and we're 7-5 and that's a better record than we had at the end of last season.''

Sarkisian even tried to take heat off the defense by blaming himself and the offense (Sarkisian calls the offensive plays).

"What was disappointing in last week's game to me ... our defense forced us three turnovers and we didn't turn any over those turnovers into points," he said.

Sark's right in more ways than one. The offense might deserve more blame than the defense for the Huskies' three-game slide.

Before we crunch some numbers, though, let's finger the biggest reason why Washington has lost four-of-five: the schedule. Stanford, Oregon and USC supplied three of those defeats. They are each top-10 teams. The loss at Oregon State, however, was dreadful, so Huskies fans should feel free to be miserable about that one.

Back to the offense.

The Huskies averaged 35.6 points and 429.6 yards during a 6-2 start. During the 0-3 slide, they've averaged 18.3 points and 279 yards. And before we only point at the schedule, let's note the Huskies had just 315 yards against a pretty rotten Oregon State defense, though, of course, that was with backup quarterback Nick Montana playing most of the game.

The defense, meanwhile, is yielding the exact same yardage, 430.4, today as it did on Oct. 29 after a victory over Arizona made Washington 6-2. During the 6-2 start, the defense gave up 33.4 points per game. During the three-game slide, it was 37.3 -- and that's, again, with Oregon and USC on the schedule, the Nos. 1 and 3 scoring offenses in the Pac-12.

The Huskies' two offensive stars during the 6-2 start -- running back Chris Polk and quarterback Keith Price -- have seen their numbers slide. Price threw 23 touchdown passes and eight interceptions in the first eight games. He's thrown three and three in the past three, not to mention three picks in the win over Arizona. As for Polk, he averaged 127 yards rushing in the first eight games, 75 in the last three.

And let's not leave out the offensive line. Polk is a proven back, so his downturn likely can be significantly attributed to smaller running lanes. But the real eye-catcher is this: Washington gave up just 16 sacks in the first eight games. They've yielded 17 in the last three, and their 33 on the season rank last in the Pac-12.

So it's not just the defense that's been stinking up the joint.

The takeaway is this: The Huskies have not yet arrived in Year 3 under Sarkisian and Holt.

Bracket off the Oregon State game. It plays like a bit of an anomaly -- the one face plant a year a lot of teams have. The obvious trend is the Huskies can't yet go mano-a-mano with highly-ranked teams (the fourth of their five losses came at now-No. 21 Nebraska). Their four losses to ranked teams came by an average of 24.3 points.

What's the solution? Well, some might scream for Holt to be fired. And Holt shouldn't feel terribly comfortable, even though he's almost certainly coming back in 2012.

But the biggest issue can be summed up in one word: linemen. The Huskies need to get better on both lines if they are going to push into the top-third of the Pac-12.