A limping Chris Robinson was the last thing the University of Washington wanted to see less than two weeks before its Holiday Bowl game with Nebraska.
Numbers on the defensive line seem to be dwindling by the day – not a good sign for a team facing a formidable rushing offense that likes to run it down the throats of its opponents.
“We’ll be OK,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said.
But he has reason to be concerned:
• Talia Crichton, the projected starter at the weak-side defensive end spot out of training camp, played there the first six games until a knee injury forced him out of the Oregon State game Oct. 16. He had surgery and hasn’t played in a game since, although he is now practicing in full pads.
• When he played, senior Cameron Elisara had become the team’s most reliable defensive lineman getting off blocks. He was a presence on the edge. But when he left in the first half of the Arizona game Oct. 23 with a recurrence of a career-threatening shoulder stinger, it started a revolving door to replace him.
• One reason the Huskies were able to comfortably shift Everrette Thompson outside to replace Elisara was the emerging presence of defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi during November. But Tokolahi broke his left ankle in the fourth quarter of the Apple Cup, and will be sidelined for the next six months.
• Recently, Thompson has moved back to defensive tackle. Meanwhile, Robinson had been spending some time with the No. 1 defense in recent practices – essentially becoming the No. 4 defensive tackle behind Alameda Ta’amu, Thompson and Lakes High’s Sione Potoa’e. But on Friday night, Robinson banged up his knee in practice. It was swollen on Saturday, and he was noticeably in a lot of pain. He did not practice.
If the team keeps the redshirt label on true freshman Lawrence Lagafuaina – Sarkisian said Saturday he wouldn’t do lift for just one game – it appears the Huskies, in a best-case scenario, will have four healthy defensive tackles available for the Holiday Bowl.
Throw in the defensive ends, and they would have eight total linemen who could play.
UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt identified Thompson, Ta’amu and defensive end Hau’oli Jamora as the three he most trusts to get the job done.
“That’s the best we’ve got,” Holt said. “And the fourth guy, we are not sure yet on who that will be. Right now that would be De’Shon (Matthews), and he’d be OK.”
Sarkisian knows the problem. It’s the hand he’s been dealt, but he concedes that this is the time of the year that big men get hurt.
“’Tis the season – it’s the end of the year and defensive linemen get banged up,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why it’s so imperative to recruit defensive line play. To create depth at that position is extremely important.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org
Hot topic: Nebraska’s defensive line
The defensive tackles are Jared Crick and Terrence Moore. The defensive ends are Cameron Meredith and Pierre Allen.
DE Josh Williams and Jason Ankrah; DT Thaddeus Randle.
Crick had 63 tackles, including a team-best 16 stops for loss (91/2 sacks) and 10 quarterback hurries; Meredith had 60 tackles and 10 quarterback hurries; Allen had 57 tackles, 10 for loss and a team-best 12 quarterback hurries.
Talk to any offensive coordinator or line coach and they’ll tell you the same thing about the Cornhuskers’ defensive line – it’s relentless. Crick picked up where ex-Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh left off as an inside pass rusher. Meredith and Allen work a bit under the radar. Meredith will play standing up when Nebraska goes to a 3-4 scheme. The Huskers will have to fill the void left when defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler was suspended after a DUI arrest.
Todd Milles, staff writer