It seems to be a foregone conclusion around college football: the Washington defense is going to be overwhelmed by the high-powered Baylor offense in Thursday’s Alamo Bowl.
The prevailing thought is the Huskies will be nothing more than an afterthought for the high-powered Baylor offense, a minor speed bump or slight impediment en route to the end zone for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III and his dynamic playmaking friends.
The Huskies know it.
“Obviously, we’re playing against a very explosive offense with some explosive football players,”
Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt said Monday. “I think maybe that’s kind of the headline going into this game with them on offense having such firepower and having such a good quarterback.”
Is it fair?
In a way, it’s fair. And, it’s justified.
Defensively, Washington hasn’t been very good this season. The Huskies are giving up 33.33 points per game, which ranks 99th of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They are 94th in total defense, giving up 426.3 yards per game. And the worst numbers come against passing teams: Washington ranks 116th, giving up 283.3 yards per game.
And it’s not just the cumulative statistics. The Stanford game, in which Washington gave up 65 points, 615 yards of total offense and 466 yards rushing wasn’t exactly a bright moment. Nor was giving up 484 yards of total offense and 339 yards passing to an anemic Oregon State offense with a redshirt freshman at quarterback.
“I think it’s a little bit skewed in that sense,” said Baylor co-offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery. “I think you said they were (116th on pass defense). I think they’re a much better pass defense than probably what that stat shows.”
But if you factor in Baylor’s offense, which ranks in the top 10 in scoring (seventh at 43.5 points per game), total offense (second at 571.3 yards per game), passing offense (fifth at 356.2 yards per game) and yards per play (second at 7.49 yards), then you can understand why the assumptions arise.
The most common assumption is that Baylor is 45 points just waiting to happen after kickoff and that Washington will have to top that number to win. Both teams’ offenses have garnered most of the pre-bowl attention.
“If we go unnoticed, that’s fine,” Holt said of his defense. “Hopefully we don’t go unnoticed on game day and we rise up to the challenge.”
The players on defense don’t mind the idea of being overlooked and underappreciated. It’s been that way for most of the season.
“We like that,” senior linebacker Cort Dennison said. “We like when people write us off. It just gives us motivation.”
A year ago, not much was expected of the Washington defense in the Holiday Bowl. The Huskies were facing a Nebraska offense that rolled up 533 yards of total offense, including 383 yards rushing, earlier in the season in a 56-21 win at Husky Stadium. Surely, it would be another beatdown in San Diego.
Instead, an inspired Huskies defense manhandled a less-than-motivated Huskers, limiting the Nebraska offense to 189 yards in a 19-7 win.
“The first game against Nebraska didn’t go so well,” Dennison said. “We came back and had great preparation for the bowl game and we obviously had a great game. We’ve worked hard again this bowl season to do the same.”
How much does the extra preparation time help?
“I just think the comfort level we get, the familiarity we get with the team, it can only help strengthen us as a defense the more film we watch, the more reps we get in practice,” Dennison said. “I think that only leads to positive things.”
Griffin likened Washington’s defense to Oklahoma State’s, which was also ranked low, but did enough to slow down the Bears in a 59-24 victory by the Cowboys.
“Oklahoma State’s defense is ranked really, really bad, but against us they played really well in the goal-line situation and took the game away from us ,and down the stretch they came up with some turnovers,” Griffin said. “They (the Huskies) might be (low) rated, but they have a decent, good defense. When you watch them on film, they have good players. They aren’t just lacking at any position.”
It seems as though the Baylor players and coaches seem to be the only people outside of Montlake willing to give the UW defense much credit or respect.
That’s OK with Huskies, who plan to earn respect.
“We just want to have that feeling of getting after it and proving everyone wrong,” senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu said.
Holt said he believes in his defense. He has all season.
“When all the chips are down, our kids get close and get a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “I know our kids will always play hard and give us great Husky effort and make the fans proud. Regardless of who overlooks us, we can’t help any of that or we have no control of that, we’ve just got to make sure we control what we do and play really, really hard.”