After a discouraging loss, Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt needs to get his unit right. The Pac-12 season starts next Saturday.
LINCOLN, Neb. — “First play awareness.”
From Monday through Friday, it’s preached in practice. Don’t get surprised on the first play of the game. Don’t start the day on your heels. And please, please be aware of the possibility of trickery.
“Watch the double move.” Washington’s defensive coordinator Nick Holt reminded his defensive backs before they took the field in the red sea of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium.
The message wasn’t received.
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After all of Holt’s preaching and all of his warnings, senior cornerback Quinton Richardson still got scorched on Nebraska’s first play from scrimmage.
“It happens to a veteran guy who knows better,” Holt said after Saturday’s 51-38 loss to 11th-ranked Nebraska. “And then it starts tumbling from there.”
Wide receiver Kenny Bell beat Richardson with that dreaded double move. He was out and up and almost gone. For Washington, it was first-play unawareness.
Taylor Martinez dropped the pass into Bell’s arms for a 50-yard gain. It would be Nebraska’s longest pass play of the game. And one play later, the Huskers had a 7-0 lead.
“Everybody took their turn to make some mistakes at critical times, starting off with the first play of the game,” Holt said. “We need to do a better job as coaches to make sure — they all nod their heads — but we have to make sure we execute some stuff.
“There were too many times when it was one guy here, one guy there, one guy there not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. That maybe comes back to myself as a coach. We’ve got to get up, all on the same page.”
Go ahead, get angry at the Big Ten officials who blew a couple of key calls that changed the game’s momentum. And feel frustrated about Washington’s inability to overcome adversity that led to its “complete meltdown,” in coach Steve Sarkisian’s words, in the third quarter.
But the officials didn’t lose this game. And the meltdown wasn’t the main reason for this loss.
On this gray, somber Saturday that felt and looked more like late November than mid-September, the Huskies defense wasn’t ready to compete against a team as good as Nebraska.
“We have to figure it out,” Sarkisian said of the defense. “What we’re doing scheme wise or (the defensive personnel) we’re playing. Everything that’s going on.”
Eastern Washington quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell burned them for 473 passing yards on opening day. And Nebraska rushed for 309 yards Saturday. In their first three games, the Huskies have allowed an average of almost 37 points a game.
Three weeks into the season, Washington’s defense is suffering too many profound breakdowns. It has been beaten by land and by air.
And now the responsibility for fixing the defense is Holt’s.
“I need to do my job better,” Holt said. “We all need to do our job better. The problem was, when we had the opportunities to make the play, some guys just didn’t get it done for us. We need to address that.”
Nebraska’s up-tempo, no-huddle, big-play offense beat Washington with big plays. A 28-yard scramble by Martinez. A 25-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Green. A 25-yard run by Braylon Heard.
But there also was plenty of old school Nebraska I-back, belly option offense, like the stuff once run by Turner Gill and Eric Crouch. The game’s longest running play was a 36-yard gain on a straight belly feed to fullback Tyler Legate.
“Oh yeah, I’m disappointed with some of the play of our guys,” Holt said. “We need to get better and we will get better. But you play a good team like Nebraska, they took advantage of some of the guys at some of the positions.
“There were a couple of times where guys weren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing on some of those big plays. That was the frustrating thing. We’ve got to correct that. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching. The concepts we’re doing in practice, (when) we get in the game and we’re not doing them.”
From the practice field to game day, something is getting lost in translation. The Pac-12 season starts Saturday against California and Nick Holt has this week to get his unit right.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org