When Steve Sarkisian took over the Huskies program in 2009, he made it clear that he was going to run the offense, and was bringing Nick Holt with him from USC to run the defense. Nick took over what was an epically bad defense, and despite the howls from the Internet about his defense not progressing, still has the support of Sarkisian, who has shown complete trust in Holt and that he will get them where they need to go.
The question is, how has he done so far?
Similar to the offensive article, we will look at how the defense did after 4 games in the season, and how those numbers changed by the end of the season.
Washington ended 2008 with only one substantial defensive stat ranking above 100 in the nation, the pass defense was only giving up 211 yards a game through the air, which was good enough for 62nd in the nation. As ugly as the number is, so were the rest of them. Giving up 451 yards a game with 38 points by the end of the season.
Simply put, the defense looked like it reached absolute rock bottom along with the rest of the program in 2008, and could only get better. Insert Sarkisian and the animated Holt, who appears to be ready at all times to run out on the field and tackle someone.
After the first four games in 2009 the Washington defense was giving up 379 yards a game for 25 points a game. While not numbers that jump out at you, the improvement over 2008 was monumental.
To start 2009 the Huskies were giving up 183 yards through the ground to 195 ypg through the air. By the end of the season the Huskies were stouter against the run at 148 ypg, but were giving up big numbers through the air with 240 ypg. The defense made a large leap from the start of the season to the end going from an average of 4.25 tackles for loss a game, to 6.67 which ranked 27th in the nation, and also improved their sack total from one per game to 2.25.
With the Huskies making improvements in both the offense and the defense for 2009, there was a bit of excitement going into the 2010 season, even with the loss of their sack leader on defense in Daniel Te-Nesheim.
Washington started the 2010 season going 2-2, but with a dramatic relapse in defensive numbers. Those kind of things happen when you give up 56 points in a single game. Their total D was back up over 400 at 425 yards per game. Huskies opponents were putting up a balanced 212 yards through the air to 213 on the ground. Jumping up from 2009's 26 points per game total, the Huskies were giving up 33 a game in 2010.
By the end of the Huskies 2010 march back to respectability in the form of a bowl game, Holts defense was giving up 384 yards per game, Washington's opponents were still hitting them with a balanced attack, but down to 194 ypg through the air, and 190 ypg on the ground. The points per game came down to a more respectable 29.
By the time bowl season came around Washington found themselves with a strong looking d-line, and an absolute BEAST on defense in Mason Foster running around at linebacker. The defense ended the season averaging 2.15 sacks a game and 6.46 tackles for a loss, with Foster the leader in sacks.
Despite the loss of Foster, Washington came in 2011 looking to take another step on defense. Sadly for Husky fans, it looks like the step is backwards when it comes to the numbers. The Huskies found themselves under an aerial assault from Eastern Washington and Hawaii, so it is no surprise that the passing D is currently sitting at last in the nation at 327 yards per game.
While the PAC-12 does like the throw the ball all over the field, it is unlikely the Huskies will continue to get pummeled through the air the same fashion. On the ground the Huskies find themselves only giving up 125 yards a game, but that is just as much of a product of being attacked through the air more often than on the ground, as Nebraska was able to run with success against the Huskies front 7.
Even though the numbers are not pretty at this point, 453 ypg in total defense, the Huskies are sitting at 3-1 since they have been able to put up more than the 33 points their defense is giving up a game. The Huskies suffered a huge loss in losing Mason Foster, and the line backing depth has shown some weakness.
The Huskies are still young on defense (I know, we have been been young for what seems like a decade especially in the secondary), and you can see it in the play calling, most noticeably when it comes to the secondary. Holt has focused his team on not giving up the big play, and making teams work there way down the field.
While the defense does not seem to be making quite the leap the offense appears to be making this year, there still is progress. Watching the games we can start to see where Holt envisions this defense going, but right now it a lot of people in the wrong spot and making frustrating mistakes. Holt wants to attack, but does not trust his guys on the back end enough to leave them exposed too often.
The stats for the first games are ugly, especially through the air, but we will see those drop to more respectable numbers when the Huskies aren't getting 50 + passes thrown at them. Not to say the secondary is not a work in progress, but there are some young pieces there with guys like Desmond Trufant and Sean Parker.
The Huskies are young all over the place on defense, which is frustrating as a fan to watch as they learn on the go. The good news is that they are improving, and the talent they are bringing in is there. Luckily the Huskies offense which has been the bright-spot so far this year, is very young as well, so we should should still have an impressive offense when this defense matures.