A bye week couldn't have come at a better time for a Husky defense looking to improve dramatically. Through three games this season, Washington's defense has given up an average 42 points and 521 yards per game. Though, those three games have been against three of the best offensive teams in the nation in Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma.
"There's a process - I've been through these kind of things, where the first half wasn't very good, then it gets a lot better. It's not fun when you're in this part of it. The biggest thing, is stay the course, be consistent with your teaching and make sure guys know you believe in them," explained Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell. "As long as you know you have the right guys, which we feel we have the right guys, it's a great challenge to get it done. We've got some work to do, that's why we all want to get out there and get our hands back on those guys, because when you sit on a loss like that, it doesn't feel very good."
While the Husky secondary will more than likely be improved from last season when all is said and done, it is still looking to make strides after giving up an average of 298 yards per game in the air through three games.
"You can't let one loss ruin your whole entire year, because there's a lot of season left. Those are only the first three games, and we played three great teams too. We definitely improved in certain areas, but we still have a lot of work to do," explained sophomore safety Nate Williams. "With the Oregon loss and the Oklahoma loss, we lost by a lot. That might have triggered something with a lot of the guys, that we're going to work harder in practice and we're going to pick things up. A lot of guys are finally getting tired of losing. We definitely want [things] to change around here."
Tackling was a huge concern against Oklahoma. Missed tackles, that should have been made, resulted in Sooner touchdowns of 76-yards and 64-yards.
"Tackling I think is one part technique, two parts desire. I think the guys are trying to get to the tackle. Nate Williams - he missed a couple of tackles, but he's going to get better. As the season progresses, guys get better in doing it," said Defensive Backs Coach J.D. Williams. "It's not everyday you get an opportunity to take someone to the ground. In practice, you're stressing the fundamentals of tackling, and on game day, it' s a matter of going out and doing it. The kids have to go out and tackle, that's the bottom line."
In Williams' defense, not only was he slightly hampered with an knee injury, but he was also adjusting to the strong safety position after moving over from free safety. Williams isn't overly concerned the Husky defense though.
"I don't think much needs to happen with us. I think what we need to do is work on our tackling more. Last week, we had a lot of missed tackles, and it allowed them to score more points," said N. Williams. "I think that's the main thing that we need to work on this week, that's it. I don't think anything [major] needs to change. I just think we have a lot of work to do."
The reason that Williams made the switch to strong safety, was so that true freshman Johri Fogerson could make the start at free safety. Fogerson was recruited to Washington with the intention of playing running back. But with adequate depth at the position, and lack thereof at the safety position, the coaches thought it wise to switch Fogerson to safety, a position he excelled at in high school.
"I really didn't have any thoughts going through my mind. I just went out and said I'll take on the challenge and try my best to retain all of the information I need to play. The first play was real fast, but once I got that first play out of the way, I was ready, I was on it. It felt great to get that first hit - play like you practice," expressed Fogerson. "Now I've just got to get better, get a lot better, take no steps back. I need to take everything that coach Donatell, coach Williams, Nate, Jason [Wells] - all the people that are older than me - take all that information in so I can keep growing as player and a person on the field. Basically making plays I know I can make."
And how did Fogerson play in not only his first career start, but his first collegiate game? He just led the team in solo tackles with nine.
"It will never be that tough on Johri, from the standpoint of going into your first game, playing a group like that," expressed Donatell. "That will settle down, and those guys are sharp guys. We're not going to keep acting young. There's no excuse once we get a little bit of knowledge in those guys."
As a whole, Coach Williams has been fairly pleased with the play of the secondary.
"Johri's going to get better, he did some bright things out there. Nate, he's only a sophomore, and he had to learn a new position because of Johri - he did pretty good job," said Coach Williams. "I think Quinton [Richardson] is solid at one corner - Mesphin [Forrester] is playing well. Vonzell [McDowell] came in and did some good things. We've just got to get them to make more plays. I'm happy, but again, we've got to get better."
And although the Huskies' 2008 season has seen it's fair share of struggles early on, Coach Williams feels the secondary has a swagger to it that will help it through the rough patches.
"There's got to be some resolve there. I think Nate, Quinton, Johri and Mesphin all have some resolve. It's just a matter of going out and playing one snap at a time," said Coach Williams. "Like we say, six seconds of hell. You play one snap at a time. Don't worry about the scoreboard, just concentrate on beating that person one time for seventy plays, and you'll be fine."
The Huskies will now use this week to focus more on themselves and leave next week to focus on their next opponent, Stanford.
"This week we focus on fundamentals - get better. When Stanford week comes, we focus on Stanford, focus on the opponent," explained Coach Williams. "But this week is about us, it's about us getting better fundamentals - it'll be interesting. I think the kids are fired up to get out there and get better. No one likes to lose, so I think the kids will be in a kind of fired up way, looking forward to the week."
And the game against Stanford is monumental in terms of Head Coach Tyrone Willingham staying at Washington.
"We all know how important it is, because we start off 0-3 - I don't think any of us thought we were going to be 0-3. It's really important to all of us," said Williams. "We want to show the nation what we're really about. We want to come out and show the Pac-10 what we can do and what we're really capable of doing."
"It's just important period. We need a win, and that's obviously the point that's being made," stressed Fogerson. "We're planning on winning this one, so that's all I can really say about that one. We really want this win, so one game at a time."
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