Most defensive coordinators who open the season facing an historically complex BYU offense probably wouldn't use the word "comfortable" in their assessment heading into the game.
Washington’s Nick Holt can’t be sure what to expect from BYU, but he at least knows more about his own club heading into Saturday’s game in Provo, Utah.
“It’s like any opener,” Holt said after practice Tuesday. “You spend all (pre)season getting ready, but you still don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. Bottom line is you’ve got to show up, tackle really well, play hard and get some turnovers.”
Last year, in Holt’s first season with the Huskies, UW did not do any of those things consistently, giving up 26.7 points and 389 yards of offense a game.
But spring and fall camps have increased his confidence with his Huskies.
“I feel more comfortable with the scheme and the players,” Holt said. “We know what the players can and cannot do; they’ve all gotten better, they all know the package a lot better, so they’re playing faster. There’s not a lot of doubt, (so) obviously we’re feeling better.”
BYU, which averaged 35.5 points a game last season, is expected to use two new quarterbacks – freshman Jake Heaps of Issaquah and junior Riley Nelson, who is more likely to run the ball.
“They give you a lot of … different formations and a lot of motion, but it comes down to them having really good offensive linemen,” Holt said. “They’re big and they’re physical and they get in the shotgun with big splits, so it gives good passing windows and creates a lot of running room.”
During his conference call with the media Tuesday, UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said he sees this year’s defense playing more as a unit, while last year’s team often relied on the play of a few standouts, such as linebacker Donald Butler and end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.
“Now, I think, in year two in the system with Nick and the guys, we’ve got them playing fast and getting to the football and understanding, conceptually, what we’re trying to accomplish,” Sarkisian said.
The defense, he said, has adopted Holt’s personality.
“They’re aggressive, they’re tough, they’re smart,” Sarkisian said. “All in all, I’m excited to go watch them play Saturday.”
Sarkisian was asked if he recalled that BYU was the team that knocked out Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (shoulder) in the opener last season.
Was he worried about the same thing happening to his Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Jake Locker?
Sarkisian said he didn’t expect there to be extra emphasis on protecting Locker because it’s not exactly breaking news that he’s valuable to them.
“One of our main principles on offense is to protect the quarterback,” Sarkisian said. “That includes everybody, not just the offensive line, but the tight ends, the running backs; it’s the quarterback understanding when he’s hot and when he’s not.”
BYU uses a zone-blitzing scheme, Sarkisian said, so “we’ve got to be smart enough to do some max protection things to make sure we can block all the zone-pressure stuff.”
UP TO SPEED
Receiver James Johnson appeared to continue his recovery from an ankle injury and was running routes.
Linebacker Brandon Huppert was on the sideline rehabbing from knee surgery.