Next up in our series of season grades for the 2012 Huskies is a look at the secondary. There may not have been another position group that benefited as much from the wholesale changes to the defensive coaching staff as this one - how did our writers assess their performance?
Kirk: What a difference a year makes. After a 2011 campaign that saw the Husky defense surrender 284.6 ypg and allow an efficiency rating of 137.6 (ranking 87th), in 2012 they allowed just 197.3 ypg and an efficiency rating of 115.4 (ranking 27th). The S&P measure at FootballOutsiders showed the Huskies pass defense rising from 64th in 2011 to 34th in 2012. And all of that despite a pass rush that generated just 2 sacks per game (59th in the country).
Some of that improvement is probably due to experience as the Huskies returned all but CB Quinton Richardson for the 2012 season. But you have to give a big chunk of credit to new position coach Keith Heyward - it was clear from game one that his guys were playing much more aggressive, tough and confident than they had under the previous staff. Heyward's players were known for this from his time at Oregon State, and he carried that with him as he moved north from Corvallis. Credit can also be given to new DC Justin Wilcox (himself a former defensive back) who implemented schemes that placed much more trust in the secondary rather than trying to play very safe and conservatively. The players - especially Sr. Desmond Trufant - clearly responded well that that change and that trust.
Trufant was the poster-boy for that improvement. A four-year starter who had a promising true Freshman campaign but had struggled to live up to his hype as a Sophomore and Junior, he shined all season long. His high point was holding All-World USC WR Marquise Lee to just 2 catches for 32 yards. His stellar season caught the attention of NFL scouts, and a strong showing at the practices for the Senior Bowl has him looking like a possible 1st round draft pick, pending his showing at the NFL Draft Combine.
No play better exemplified the resurgence in the secondary than the one against Oregon State where Sean Parker and Trufant converged on Beaver WR Markus Wheaton, with Parker delivering the knockout hit that removed Wheaton from the game and Justin Glenn corralling the loose football for the interception.
While they weren't perfect - the play at the other safety spot opposite Parker was mixed, and they had some issues with interference and holding calls - they showed Wilcox that they were a strength he gameplan around (such as with Stanford where he stacked the box and dared the Cardinal to throw, to little success) and provide a lot of optimism for the future, even with Trufant graduating.
Ryan Priest: One of the biggest regrets that any Husky fan has to have about the Steve Sarkisian years is that Desmond Trufant only got to play under Justin Wilcox for one season. The Huskies made a monumental leap in receiving yards allowed per game between 2011 and 2012, going from giving up 252 yards per game (93rd in the nation) to 197 (23rd). Even when taking the defensive coaching changes into consideration, that’s not a stat to be taken lightly. Redshirt freshman Marcus Peters largely took over the other corner position for the majority of the year, and though he made his share of bone-headed freshman mistakes— mostly from biting on double moves—almost all of his errors were the result of a lack of discipline, which ought to be remedied further under another year of Wilcox’s instruction. At the safety position, Sean Parker again proved his mettle, as the former Army All American ranked second in tackles for the second consecutive year. Alongside him was senior Justin Glenn, who along with Trufant represents the only significant part of the defensive backfield that won’t return in 2013. Though they had their share of poor performances, most notably in the Apple Cup, you have to give respect to a unit that improved statistically as much as this one did from one year to the next. Furthermore, Dawg fans have good reason to hope for further improvement in the coming season, with most key players returning intact and talented freshman like Brandon Beaver and Cleveland Wallace who were able to redshirt during the previous season.
Jack Follman: Probably the strength of the team. Would be amazing to see how good they could have done had they had any kind of pass rush.
Jeffrey Gorman: Of all position groups on the Husky Football team, none saw more improvement from last year than the secondary. The much-maligned unit that was amongst the worst in the nation in 2011, improved dramatically and ended the season ranked 23rd in passing defense, and 27th in passing efficiency defense. Not only are these numbers an impressive improvement from last year, but also they point to the secondary's new aggressive, ball hawking nature. Of the 26 teams rated higher in passing efficiency, only 7 have a higher opponent interception percents than the Huskies very respectable 4.31%. They turned in some very quality performances over the course of the season, most notably limiting USC All-American WR Marquis Lee to two meaningless catches and intercepting Oregon State's Sean Mannion 4 times, not to mention knocking his favorite target, WR Markus Wheaton, out the game.
Keith Hayward, who churned out high quality corners and safeties for years at Oregon State, really did a number with the returning talent in the Husky defensive backfield. Senior CB Desmond Trufant continued his strong play heading into his 4th year as a starter and became a true shut down corner. He's even made a name for himself during the senior bowl, improving his draft stock considerably in the process. Then there's SS Sean Parker, whose physical play often set the tone for the defense with his jarring hits. We can't forget to mention FS Justin Glenn's steady play at free safety, who used his experience as a 5th year senior to be a real leader in the back end. Lastly, first year starter CB Marcus Peters had a fine season after impressing on the scout team last year, grabbing 3 interceptions. In addition to the four aforementioned starters, CBs Greg Ducre and Tre Watson, and S Will Shamburger turned in solid seasons, and should be counted on next season for depth and experience. I would expect Ducre and Shamburger to be given the first chance in camp to take the open CB and S spots, respectively.
It wasn't all great for the Husky DBs, however. Not surprisingly, their more aggressive play yielded a lot more pass interference calls, especially during crucial times, like during the Apple Cup. Oddly enough, the Cougars didn't throw a touchdown pass that game, but the Huskies seemed to get a lot of interference called on them, which extended Cougar drives. The same can be said for the Las Vegas bowl, where the Broncos gashed the Huskies on 3rd and longs all day, and were penalized for interference quite often. That being said, the improvement in tackling, coverage, and play making ability (see 17 interceptions) this year was nothing short of astounding. All in all, a very fine season for the Husky secondary.