Washington sophomore linebacker John Timu is focused on studying opponents — then making the plays on the field.
The manner in which television cameras — and the eyes of fans — inevitably follow the ball can often make it appear as if a player suddenly materialized in position to make a play.
Such as Saturday night, when Washington sophomore middle linebacker John Timu intercepted a pass intended for Utah receiver Kenneth Scott in the second quarter. The play stopped a drive deep into Huskies territory and set up a touchdown that gave UW the lead. Washington never trailed again en route to a 34-15 win.
Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox says the play was actually a week or so in the making, the result of the kind of pregame preparation and film study he says has made Timu a leader of UW’s revived defense.
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“John’s a real cerebral guy and he is very, very smart,” Wilcox said. “And he studies the game.”
His studying before the Utah game paid off Saturday night.
Wilcox said as Utah lined up for a third-and-11 at the UW 34-yard line, an obvious passing down, Timu noticed what he had reviewed on film with coaches during the week — a formation where the Utes split a receiver to the short side of the field and the tight end to the wide side. It was a formation where the ball more often than not went to the receiver.
“He recognized that immediately and he altered his drop,” Wilcox said. “… That’s the difference in a guy that’s able to apply all the things in the meeting room to the game.”
Said Timu: “I just want to know my opponent better than they know themselves. And that’s a big thing is studying them, so when the game comes it will be easy. I felt like I knew what was coming.”
As Wilcox said, though, on top of the study is being able to carry that to the field. Timu struggled with that last season, when he was thrust into a starting job at linebacker as a true freshman.
“Last year, I didn’t have the belief that I was going to make the play every time,” he said.
He was also about 20 pounds lighter than his current 230 pounds, which sometimes made it harder to simply make the play, particularly defending the run.
Timu says improving his tackling “was the most important thing for me. Especially for a linebacker, especially last year, all the missed tackles that I had. That started in the offseason, putting on some pounds and getting more physical and the belief that I have to have in myself. The belief that I have to have to make the tackle instead of having the fear of missing.”
There were still rough patches early in the season, such as the 41-3 loss at LSU when the Tigers manhandled the Huskies with their running game and UW often used the bigger Thomas Tutogi in the middle.
But Wilcox said Timu has continued to work and study, even through the down moments, and has erased the question of whether he can fill the shoes of last year’s starting middle linebacker, Cort Dennison.
“Some of the plays he is making now, he might not have made earlier in the year because he has gotten so much more comfort in what he is doing now and in what they (opponents) are trying to do to him,” Wilcox said.
Saturday, Timu not only had an interception but also helped make a stop when Utah went for it on fourth-and-one at its 43 on the first drive of the third quarter. Washington took over and quickly drove for a touchdown and a 21-6 lead. Later, Timu suffered a stinger and trainers called for a cart to take him off the field. But Timu got to his feet, waved the cart away, and returned to the game on the next series.
The incident briefly revived memories of a scary incident against California last season when Timu suffered a similar injury and was taken off the field via ambulance.
“I didn’t want to go through that again,” he said. “I wanted to finish the game and help our seniors go out with a bang on their last night at home.”
He did just that. He was UW’s nominee for Pac-12 defensive player of the week — helping the defense put the finishing touches on another sterling game at CenturyLink Field. The Huskies didn’t allow more than 24 points in any of six home games this year, and 17 or fewer in five — all wins.
“That was a big thing for us,” he said, “We want the team to rely on us. We want that challenge for the game to be on the line and for us to win the game.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta