SEATTLE – Limited to mostly passing situations, University of Washington defensive end Josh Shirley is not the every-down player he thought he would be coming into this season.
He recorded three sacks in the Huskies’ 34-24 victory Saturday at Illinois. Shirley said he hopes his performance might change his coaches’ minds.
“I’ve always been told the better you are in your current role, the faster it will change,” Shirley said. “I’m just trying to embrace my role as a team player and my role on the team is to pass rush, and that’s what I’m trying to excel at.”
The three sacks all came in the first half. Shirley recorded 61/2 sacks last year.
His performance Saturday tied him for the Pacific-12 Conference lead in sacks with UCLA’s Keenan Graham and USC’s George Uko.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was named national player of the week by Athlon Sports, but Shirley earned top defensive honors.
All this by a guy relegated to part-time duties. He didn’t start either of UW’s first two games and was listed behind sophomore Cory Littleton at right defensive end on the depth chart against Illinois.
“I think this hasn’t been easy for Josh,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I think he thought he’d just be the starting defensive end and play every down.
“But I thought he came into the game Saturday with a really good mindset that when he got his chances, affect the quarterback. And he did.”
Shirley’s UW career has been sort of a roller coaster of emotions and experiences. He came to the program in 2010 after then-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel dismissed him and two others from the Bruins following allegations they stole a purse.
So Shirley, ranked a four-star recruit by ESPN and one of the top high school linebackers, went to Washington. He redshirted his first year then led UW with 81/2 sacks in 2011. He was tied for second in the nation with six forced fumbles last season. (Alabama’s Jarvis Jones, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, led with seven.)
Shirley said being a role player this season has humbled him.
“You are never too big for anything that can happen to you,” Shirley said. “It shows the kind of character you have, the way you can adjust to adversity in situations and how you can take it on.”
Shirley said Washington’s depth on the defensive line allows him to focus on rushing the passer.
“I’m just feeling more free to get after the quarterback,” he said. “The other guys on the D-line, they made (Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase) uncomfortable, as well. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.”
“We got a lot of depth at that spot,” Sarkisian said. “So when you have that competition, it keeps guys fresh, they have a role, they know what their responsibilities are.
“And in our conference, with the amount of people going no-huddle, the amount of people throwing the ball that many times, you need to rotate people in there, and we have that luxury right now.”
Another luxury? Shirley’s maturity to embrace a role designed to benefit the team.
“Josh, like a lot of players on our team, is growing up,” Sarkisian said.
RANKING THE DAWGS
While Seventeen magazine lists on its website that Shirley is one of “The Hottest Guys of College Sports” (not just for his play, apparently), the Huskies also moved up to No. 17 in the latest Associated Press rankings – their highest in the Sarkisian era.
It came as news to quarterback Keith Price until he was asked for his thoughts.
“Oh, wow, that’s awesome,” Price said, laughing. “Uh, I don’t even think I’ve been ranked that high since I’ve been here.”
He was correct.
“We understand that that’s not high enough for us,” Price said. “We can be ranked higher. We are going to have to earn that this week and just stay locked in and stay on focus.”
Sarkisian didn’t know what had happened to UW middle linebacker John Timu when he left with an injury in the first half Saturday. He later learned Timu suffered a deep bruise in his rotator cuff.
“He couldn’t lift (his arm),” Sarkisian said. “He is getting better. I would say he is day-to-day quite honestly with the way the inflammation in the shoulder goes. But there is nothing structurally wrong in there, which is a great sign.”
TV TIME SET
The Pacific-12 Confernce announced Washington’s Sept. 28 home game against Arizona will kick off at 4 p.m. on Channel 13.
UW FOOTBALLTJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org @Cotterill44