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 ‘Stop the run, win the ring,’ so says Miller
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 run.”

“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 last season.”

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, Coach?"

"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 defense.

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 season. 

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.

Name Year Position Tackles
E. J. Savannah* SR LB 111*
Mason Foster JR LB 105
Nate Williams JR S 76
Trenton Tuiasosopo SR LB 71
Donald Butler SR LB 69
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim SR DE 65
Quinton Richardson SO CB 32
Cameron Elisira JR DT 24
Johri Fogerson SO S 23
Alameda Ta'amu SO DT 21
Everrette Thompson SO DE 18
Joshua Gage SR LB 17
Darrion Jones SR DE 17
Victor Aiyewa JR SS 17

 * Savannah sat out last year; his stats are from 2007

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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