Huskies concentrate on improving their pass rush
Washington needs to get to opposing quarterbacks more often, which won't be easy against next opponent — Stanford.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Stanford @ Washington, 6 p.m., ESPN
Washington's defense has improved from the 2011 unit that ranked among the worst in school history.
One stat that hasn't gotten better, however, is sacks. The Huskies have just four in three games, and none in the past two games, causing coach Steve Sarkisian to say Monday that it's "back to the drawing board at creating a pass rush. We haven't done a very good job of that."
Not that it will be easy to get that done against Stanford, which comes to CenturyLink Field for Washington's Pac-12 opener at 6 p.m. on Sept. 27.
While UW ranks among the worst in the nation at getting sacks (tied for 83rd), Stanford ranks among the best at preventing them, allowing just two in three games (best in the Pac-12 and tied for 13th nationally). That's despite having to replace significant players off its 2011 offensive line.
So the challenge for Washington's defensive line will be great. A year ago, Stanford was one of just two teams against which UW couldn't get a sack. The Cardinal beat the Huskies 65-21.
"We've got to play physical," said defensive lineman Andrew Hudson, who lines up at end or tackle depending on the scheme. "It's a simple game plan (against Stanford). Just got to play football. Who is going to dominate who — that's the game."
That's one UW has lost decisively the past three years against the Cardinal, contests in which the Huskies got outscored 140-35.
Sarkisian, though, said improving the pass rush is something that has to be done quickly, regardless of the next opponent.
Washington has four players with one sack each, including Hudson and rush end Josh Shirley, two players who should be among the leaders in that area in the design of Washington's defense.
Sarkisian said each has had more opportunities to get sacks but have at times missed the tackle. Sarkisian also said linebackers and defensive backs need to "rush the quarterback without hesitation. If you are a blitzer in our system, it's time for you to go, you need to go get the quarterback — that's the objective behind us calling the pressures."
While the defense was generally a shambles in 2011, resulting in the firing of coordinator Nick Holt and two other assistants, the one thing the Huskies did well at the end of the year was get to the quarterback. The Huskies had 11 sacks in the last two games of the 2011 season, including four in the Alamo Bowl against Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
Shirley had three sacks in the Alamo Bowl and 5.5 in the last three games of the season, positioning himself as a future star.
But since a sack of San Diego State's Ryan Katz in the first quarter of the first game, he has not brought a quarterback down.
Shirley says teams aren't playing him any differently, but that he hasn't made the plays when they were there to be made.
"We've got to not be (overly) aggressive and got to settle down at the end and wrap up and make the tackle," he said.
It's also worth noting that Louisiana State, with a game plan based on the run and a big lead most of the game, didn't throw much against UW (just 19 attempts). And while Portland State threw 34 times, it did so out of a pistol offense that often called for the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly.
Regardless, Sarkisian called improving the pass rush "a big point of emphasis for us this week."
Come Sept. 27, though, the Huskies will first have to force the Cardinal to throw enough to worry about getting sacks. Stanford attempted just 22 passes last year against UW as it ran for 446 yards in its easy victory.
• Cornerback Travell Dixon, who last week transferred to UW from Alabama, was at practice Tuesday and has been added to the roster, awarded jersey No. 12. He will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules.
• Shaq Thompson missed practice for what the school said were personal reasons. He is expected back on Wednesday.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta