Disastrous defensive performance in the Alamo Bowl leaves Washington coach no choice but to change coordinators.

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SAN ANTONIO — What do you say when you score 56 points and lose? Well, if you’re the Huskies, you lament the fact that you couldn’t score more.

Which is fine if you’re Lorenzo Romar’s basketball team. But this was Steve Sarkisian’s football squad, and in an admirable but futile attempt not to assign too much defensive blame, Sark tried to spin the 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl as being a few missed offensive plays away from ideal.

And so you were essentially asked to consider, “If only the Huskies could’ve scored 70 points.”


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It’s obvious now that Sarkisian must stop masking the truth. There’s an elephant in the room, and if it were playing on Nick Holt’s defense, it would probably miss a half-dozen tackles, too.

Holt, who was terrific at USC as a right-hand-man defensive coordinator for Pete Carroll, hasn’t performed well enough on his own at Washington. He has had three full seasons to show progress, and in Year 3 under Holt, the Huskies allowed 453.3 yards per game, the most in school history. Holt is making top dollar, more than $650,000 a year, and producing bottom-feeder results. A firing should be inevitable.

If Sarkisian and Holt weren’t great friends, the decision would be a no-brainer. Nevertheless, even though the two are close, Sarkisian must make this difficult decision because his job is to do what’s best for his football program, not his heart.

The Alamo Bowl was both the final straw and the most exaggerated example of how imbalanced the Huskies have become. The Washington offense, which averaged 33.4 points and more than 400 yards this season, put up 56 points and 620 yards against Baylor. It was one of the finest offensive performances in school history, the fourth-most yards the Huskies have ever gained in a game. And yet they lost because their defense gave up the most yards it ever has and the second-most points.

The Huskies allowed Baylor to run up 777 yards Thursday night. Yes, 777. That’s not a stat. That’s an airplane.

Even worse was the fact that not even Sarkisian was stunned by those numbers.

“I’m not shocked,” he said. “Those guys averaged 571 yards a game.”

Sarkisian went on to lament the big plays and concluded by saying, “That part is the frustrating part to me. Numbers are numbers, records are records, all that kind of stuff. That doesn’t change your perception or view of things. There’s a style of play in which I think we need to pride ourselves on playing, and that didn’t happen tonight. That part is the frustrating part.”

It’s all frustrating — the fact a team can drop 777 on you and inspire a shrug. The fact that record-setting defensive futility is a broken record for the Huskies. The fact that a program built on stingy, bone-crushing defense is so far removed from its identity.

When asked about changes, Sarkisian promised only to evaluate his entire program and make the necessary adjustments. He is one of the game’s smartest young football coaches, especially when it comes to dissecting problems and determining the proper ways to fix them. There’s no question that, when he takes an objective look at the defense’s performance and Holt’s inability to inspire change, he can’t opt for the status quo.

The Huskies finished 7-6 and possessed an offense good enough to finish 9-4, if not better. They only needed marginal improvement from the defense to get there. Instead, this unit was worse than the one that allowed 451.8 yards in 2008. And that Washington team finished 0-12.

Next season will be Year 4 of Sarkisian’s run, and he’ll no longer be graded on an “Oh, but look at what he inherited!” curve. It has become obvious that to take another major step in this rebuilding process, the defense must receive a significant makeover.

And while Sarkisian has done enough good things to deserve the benefit of the doubt in whatever he decides, he would be wise to change defensive coordinators now. Sark can’t afford to lose a year of progress just to delay the inevitable.

For the first time as a head coach, Sarkisian faces an emotional decision. But the proper response is as clear as the typeface on that cold, dispassionate, unforgiving stat sheet.

It screams that it is time for change.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com

Porous defense
The UW defense allowed more than 400 yards eight times this season.
Opponent Result Rushing Passing Total
Baylor L, 67-56 482 295 777
Washington State W, 38-21 38 344 382
Oregon State L, 38-21 145 339 484
USC L, 40-17 252 174 426
Oregon L, 34-17 212 169 381
Arizona W, 42-31 36 388 424
Stanford L, 65-21 446 169 615
Colorado W, 52-24 62 207 269
Utah W, 31-14 17 305 322
California W, 31-23 108 349 457
Nebraska L, 51-38 309 155 464
Hawaii W, 40-32 55 333 388
Eastern Washington W, 30-27 31 473 504
Average per game 168.7 284.6 453.3
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