Defense dominates UW spring game

SEATTLE (AP) — Cornerback Marcus Peters leveled wide receiver James Johnson, blowing up a would-be screen play, then strutted on the field.

That encapsulated Washington’s spring game on Saturday.

The defense dominated a hybrid-style spring game winning 36-10 in front of 11,802 at sunny CenturyLink Field.

A lack of healthy offensive linemen forced Washington to invoke a scoring system that credited the defense with three points for each stop, and used the normal offensive scoring rules. Washington was not able to split into two full teams, ran a small portion of the playbook, and sprinkled in entertainment for the fans between quarters.

When there was action, it was controlled by the Huskies’ defense under new coordinator Justin Wilcox.

Defensive lineman Andrew Hudson led the team with six tackles. But, it was the secondary that made numerous plays. Peters’ big hit was complemented by knocked down passes from Greg Ducre and stout coverage by cornerback Tre Watson.

Wilcox has shifted Washington into more of a 3-4 defense. A common theme from the spring and after Saturday’s dressed-up practice was that Wilcox’s approach has freed defenders.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys out there running around, it takes a little more of the thinking out,” senior safety Justin Glenn said. “More of just letting us play.”

The Huskies recorded seven sacks Saturday. That number comes with the caveat that there was no tackling to complete a sack. Once quarterbacks Keith Price or Derrick Brown were touched, the whistle blew to stop play.

Regardless, getting there is progress for the maligned defense that finished 11th in the Pac-12 last season in scoring and total defense.

Wilcox set three goals at the start of April when he was first able to get his hands on the team.

“First thing was, we really want to develop our brand,” Wilcox said. “And that was generally speaking, who we are not only schematically, installing a new defense, but what we’re about. When people turn on the TV, what do they say about that team on the field.

“We wanted to improve our tackling. I think that’s any defense. You have to be a good tackling defense. You can cover people and you can fit the runs, but if you can’t get them on the ground, it doesn’t matter.

“And the third thing was to play mentally quick. I think that comes with a little bit of repetition and confidence. That’s kind of a bigger picture thing to kind of line up, play fast and kind of let your ability take over so that you’re not thinking through every coach point.”

Price finished 14 for 28 for 168 yards and the day’s only touchdown, a 23-yard pass after a scramble to fullback Jonathan Amosa. Running back Bishop Sankey had 11 carries for 35 yards. Jesse Callier, expected to share many of the total carries, ran just twice for four yards.

Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins did not catch a pass. Wide receiver Kasen Williams had two catches for 31 yards.

“We were in and out today,” Williams said. “There were times where we had two plays that were good, and then we’d go into a slump and the drive would be over. I think that just comes from how camp was looking as a whole. We never really had a full practice that was good all the way around for our offense. I think that’s one thing this offseason we have to work on, just being more consistent.”

Washington now breaks for the summer, hoping the offense can right itself, and catch up to a suddenly functioning defense.

“At the end of the day, when the ball gets thrown, there’s competitive plays, one-on-one moments and good defenses win those one-on-one battles,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “And we showed that today, that we were able to win one-on-one battles.”