For a stretch, both Washington's defensive future and present delivered. There was some bite in these Dawgs. But the intensity ebbed and flowed, something it can't do in the next couple of weeks.
Make a play. Make a stop. Make something happen late in the game that could make the difference in the game.
That’s what Washington needed to do on this tense Saturday night.
And with a 35-31 lead, at a time in the fourth quarter when Arizona quarterback Nick Foles was laser-sharp, the maligned Husky defense finally did what it had to do, what it hasn’t done most of this season.
Foles completed another pass to Juron Criner, but this time Criner was cracked by safety Will Shamburger, forcing a fumble that was recovered and returned to midfield by Princeton Fuimaono.
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The Washington defense was bending, but on that one play with 7:14 left in the game, it broke Arizona’s will. It made a game-changing play.
Still, this defense played to mixed reviews in Washington’s 42-31 win, the Huskies’ sixth of the season, making them bowl-eligible for the second year in a row.
The defense made too many mistakes. It muffed tackles. It gave up yards and dug an early 10-0 hole for itself. It only played in spurts.
When it was given a 28-21 lead in the third quarter, when it could drop a hammer on Arizona and get its smooth-running offense back on the field, it was shredded by Foles.
It was that kind of good-news, bad-news night for a defense that was all bad news a week earlier at Stanford.
Good news: On Arizona’s last threat of the night, sophomore safety Sean Parker followed Fuimaono’s sack with an interception.
Bad news: After UW stopped Arizona on four of five possessions in the second and third quarters, it allowed the tying touchdown on a four-play, 65-yard drive that looked as easy for the Wildcats as a seven-on-seven drill.
A 16-yard pass to Dan Buckner. A personal-foul penalty. A 12-yard pass to Criner, a 13-yard pass to David Roberts. And a 9-yard touchdown pass to Criner.
On that drive, Foles did what he does so well, throwing safe, short passes to a gaggle of different receivers.
Then Arizona took a 31-28 lead early in the fourth quarter, on a nine-play, 64-yard field-goal drive. At least, this time Washington stopped Arizona when it had a first-and-goal at the Huskies’ 10.
Most of the 59,825 who made the nighttime pilgrimage to Husky Stadium came looking for some answers, looking to write their own reviews of this defense.
They came here seeking signs that with Oregon and USC looming in the next couple of weekends, Washington’s defense was improving. They came hoping the Huskies could rebound from their stupendous decimation at Stanford.
Was this young defense willing to learn from its myriad mistakes? Would coordinator Nick Holt make changes in the personnel and the schemes?
Arizona seemed like the perfect test for this defense. Foles was the Pac-12’s leading passer, averaging 363 yards a game.
He made Arizona dangerous. It had weapons. But it wasn’t Stanford dangerous. It wasn’t Oregon dangerous. It couldn’t run the ball.
This game was a thermometer game, checking Washington’s defensive temperature after the 65-21 loss to Stanford. It was a test, but not a final exam.
With Washington trailing 10-0, and with Holt wearing his glasses and angrily prowling the sideline like a professorial Rasputin, the defense finally began to match its coach’s intensity.
It became more aggressive, blitzing off the corners, making Foles hurry his throws. For that flurry in the second and third quarters, UW came at Foles with the tenacity of a hailstorm.
On this night, Holt made necessary personnel changes. Sophomore Shamburger started at free safety and made plays. Freshman John Timu was back at outside linebacker and played well. And redshirt freshman defensive end Andrew Hudson had a sack.
There was some bite in these Dawgs.
Because Arizona had no running threat, Washington could gear its defense for Foles. It could come at him with more aggression.
Still, that aggression ebbed and flowed, something it can’t do in the next couple of weeks.
Arizona finished with 424 offensive yards. Foles completed 32 of 50 throws for 388 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw three interceptions.
The Washington defense was better, nastier this week. But it wasn’t good enough to stop Oregon or USC.
On this night, it took a small step forward.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com