‘Stop the run, win the ring,’ so says
Rich Linde, 10 July 2009
Last March, standing in the middle of
the Emerald ballroom (at Chow down to Washington), I asked Coach Steve
Sarkisian if the Dawgs would be able to stop the run this season.
Amazed at my insightfulness, somewhat
flummoxed by my question – like in how in the world does this alum know
so much about football? – Coach Sarkisian answered, “Yes, we’ll stop the
“Good,” I replied. Later, I thought,
what else could he have said? “No, we’re going to let teams run
willy-nilly over us like they did last year, pounding on us for an
average of 240.6 yards per game, letting Jahvid Best tote the ball for
311 yards, like the Bears’ running back accumulated against the Huskies
After U-Dub's perfunctory three-and-out to
start the game, Best tore off a 60-yard TD run, finding a hole Mt.
Rainier could have run through.
"Can you stop the run,
"Duh" he should have said.
I thought of the UCLA practice I’d
recently attended. Members of the Bruins’ front four usually pass my
sight test. Why can’t the Huskies land one of these run-stopping
prototypes, say, an athlete like Brian Price? Hey, we did, I answered
myself. What about the photo of Craig Noble, Husky fan Chris Barnhart
had sent me (see photo above)? Why didn’t Noble enroll at UCLA, I wondered? He has that
run-stopping look about him.
Noble (6-foot-3, 300, RFr),
out of Woodland Hills, is one of three 4-star defensive linemen
recruited by Tyrone Willingham for the 2008 class. The other two,
Alameda Ta'amu (21 tackles) and Everette Thompson (18 tackles), played
as freshmen last season and have great potential.
Assuming the incoming
freshmen and JC transfers all get into school this fall, DL coach Johnny
Nansen could greet as many as 8 players of Polynesian descent on the
defensive line. Historically, the Polys have functioned as a
spirited, proud, disciplined set of athletes at Washington.
Incoming freshman Talia Crichton has been
compared to Manase Hopoi by one scout and deemed a "fantastic pass
rusher," by Sarkisian. Hopoi, along with Jerry Jensen, holds Washington's
record for tackles-for-a-loss in one game, posting 6 in a game against
USC in 2004.
Over on his blog,
an aphoristic Ted Miller writes, “Don't
be surprised if ... the ranking of run defenses is roughly equivalent to
the conference standings.”
His aphorisms are always right on, kind of like Tyrone’s used to be. “Ergo:
Stop the run, win the ring,” a profound Miller writes.
Then Miller lists the Pac-10
run-defense statistics from last season. Yep, they mostly correlate with
how the teams in the conference finished last season. You know, USC,
Oregon, Cal, etc. Even bowl-winning Arizona held down the fifth spot,
allowing 131 yards per game.
Let me pull a “Miller,” if you will. ;-) In my mind, the most important
number in Mike Stoops’ first year at Arizona was improving its run
defense. Stoops took over a team that had given up 180.8 rushing yards
per game in 2003 and lowered the figure to 123.9 rushing yards per game
in 2004, a 31% improvement.
Under Stoops, over the last 5 years, Arizona has given up and average of
139.5 running yards per game, while Washington has surrendered 178.3
yards per game.
Can Sark pull a “Stoops”?
Miller notes that Washington is the
only team in the conference returning its entire starting front seven.
Maybe, Sark has the bark to put the kibosh on the run.
Add to Miller’s stat the emergence of
Noble, plus JC transfer Johnny "the fireplug" Tivao, an improved Darrion
Jones and LB E. J. Savannah’s return from suspension and you might have
the gravitational equivalent of dark matter, that scaffolding that holds
the galaxies together, in this case the infrastructure to build a solid
Miller writes, “The Huskies should
improve dramatically. Not only is everyone back, but E.J. Savannah's
return from suspension is a massive upgrade at linebacker. Of course,
dramatic improvement -- lopping 50 or 60 or even 70 yards off last
year's total -- won't give Washington a great run defense. But the Steel
Curtain wasn't built in a day.”
A corollary to an improved
run defense involves an improved offense. Better ball control (TOP=29:10
in 2008, 7th in the conference) this year will give the defense more
opportunity to rest. Arizona led the conference (32:10) in TOP last
You can do it, front 7, and
now is the time, no matter how hard the climb:
A bowl-shaped valley with food and
supplies lay on the other side. More than half-way up the mountain, the
howling dogs found a sheet of ice. Their legs churned frantically until
the sled lost momentum, zigzagging and spinning to the bottom of the
mountain, scattering dogs and master alike in disarray. Another try on
another day? But soon the days will shorten, and the icy wind and hunger
will lengthen their daunting climb.
Table 1. Top UW tacklers returning
from last year. Now these guys are good.
|E. J. Savannah*
Savannah sat out last year; his stats are from 2007