Oregon's fast pace exposes Washington's special teams
The Huskies rested some regulars, who also play special teams. UW gave up two long kickoff returns and two long punt returns that led to three Oregon scores, and 311 return yards overall.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Football coaches often refer to plays on special teams as "hidden yards." Plays that don't necessarily show up in the standard box-score stats of total offense or defense but can go a long way toward determining the victor of a game.
For the Washington Huskies this year, however, special teams have been a pretty open wound from the beginning of the season, never more so than in Saturday's 53-16 loss at Oregon.
Washington gave up two long kickoff returns and two long punt returns that led to three Oregon scores, and 311 total return yards.
"We've obviously got some things to address in our special-teams coverage units," coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday.
Indeed, UW ranks last in the Pac-10 in kickoff coverage, allowing 26.1 yards per attempt, and also has given up more punt return yards than any conference team (346).
Part of the problem Saturday was an attempt to rest some defensive regulars who double on coverage units — such as linebackers Mason Foster, Nate Williams and Cort Dennison and safety Nate Williams — due to the rapid-pace of Oregon's offense. The Ducks ran 92 plays, 19 more than any other UW foe this season, and the Huskies wanted to keep the regulars as fresh as possible.
"Mason played 95 snaps," said special-teams coach Johnny Nansen. "I mean, come on now, sooner or later they are going to break down, and we needed to get the other young guys in."
But that helped result in what some called the key play of the game, an 80-yard return by Oregon's Josh Huff following a UW touchdown that made it 18-13 early in the third quarter.
"One time when we scored we had to pull out five guys on kickoff coverage, and you could see we got exposed there and that led to a big return," Nansen said. "But at the same time I've got to do a better job of helping out, maybe pop over a little squib (kick) or something like that."
The regulars helped fill out the special teams the rest of the game, and Nansen says they will remain on the coverage units in the final three regular-season games.
"We've got to go with the best guys and the best personnel and those are the guys that are going to give us a chance to win and that's what we are looking at right now," he said.
Still, Nansen acknowledges that's not the only problem.
"After watching the film, what we saw is we are in position to make plays; we just have to make our plays," he said. "And obviously I've got to do a better job of putting our kids in a better situation to help them out."
But he says he doesn't think that means making drastic changes to formations and alignments UW uses on its coverage units.
"I don't think it's so much schematically," he said. "It's more the technique and guys understanding where they need to be, and that's obviously on me as a coach need to make sure they totally understand."
Apple Cup set for 4 p.m., Cal game at 12:30
The Huskies announced that the Dec. 4 Apple Cup game at Washington State will start at 4 p.m. and will be televised nationally on Versus.
It was also announced that the Nov. 27 game at California will begin at 12:30 p.m.
• Dennison missed Tuesday's practice due to a death in the family.
• UW will practice again Wednesday, then take Thursday and Friday off before returning to a normal game-week preparation on Saturday for the Thursday night game against UCLA on Nov. 18.