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UW needs to force turnovers to have success

  • UW's Mason Foster pursues BYU quarterback Riley Nelson in the season opener.

    George Frey / Associated Press

    UW's Mason Foster pursues BYU quarterback Riley Nelson in the season opener.

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By Scott M. Johnson
Herald Writer
  • UW's Mason Foster pursues BYU quarterback Riley Nelson in the season opener.

    George Frey / Associated Press

    UW's Mason Foster pursues BYU quarterback Riley Nelson in the season opener.

SEATTLE -- The way senior linebacker Mason Foster sees it, three is the magic number.
Teammate Everette Thompson will settle for two, but he'd prefer "two-plus."
There is no one single number that will satisfy the University of Washington defense on Saturday afternoons this fall, but one thing upon which all the Huskies can agree is that zero is not going to get it done.
For the first time in the 13-game tenure of head coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt, the Huskies did not force a single turnover last Saturday. That, more than anything else, is what left Holt rubbing his scalp in frustration after the 23-17 loss to Brigham Young.
"If you look at it, we dropped an interception in the fourth quarter; it was an easy play," Holt said three days later, his face still showing the frustration. "And if you look at it, there was a fumble -- in my opinion -- a fumbled punt in the second quarter that we didn't get. There were some balls on the ground, and we've got to capitalize on that."
Turnovers were a huge part of UW's success in 2009. Four of the five victories came after the Huskies forced two or more turnovers, with the convincing 42-23 win over an overmatched Idaho team serving as the only victory that included just one opponent turnover. The win over USC included a key interception in the red zone, while Foster's interception return touchdown with 2 1/2 minutes remaining beat Arizona three weeks later.
The coaching staff has preached the importance of turnovers since they arrived in January 2009, using methods such as rewarding a "strip king" after each practice to the player who causes the most fumbles.
After forcing 23 turnovers during the 2009 regular season -- at least one in every game -- the UW defense failed to get a single one at BYU last weekend.
"If we don't get any, that's pretty tough; you've got to do everything right to win," said Thompson, a junior defensive end. "So turnover margin is a big factor in winning games for us."
Case in point: since the beginning of the Sarkisian/Holt era, the Huskies are now 1-5 in games during which they fail to force more than one turnover.
"Turnovers are probably the most important part of a ballgame," junior linebacker Cort Dennison said. "Look at a turnover stat: most of the time if you win the turnover battle, you win the game. Our coaches preach that."
Preaching it and doing it are two different animals. This week, the Huskies are trying to make sure they don't get shut out in the turnover department again.
"We're stressing that every day and every meeting," defensive line coach Johnny Nansen said. "We're trying to tell our kids, 'Hey, make sure, we've got to get the ball back for our offense, to help them out.' So, yeah, we're really stressing that this week."
UW had a couple of close calls in the BYU game -- the most notable example came when safety Nate Fellner had a ball bounce off his hands -- but the Huskies' opening opponent played a clean game and didn't make many obvious mistakes. Still, the UW defenders refuse to believe that they can't force an opponent into doing something wrong.
"You've just got to keep stripping, keep going for the ball and attacking the ball more," Foster said. "It's going to come out, like you saw last year. We're going to keep going after it, keep attacking the ball, keep stripping it, and good things will happen."
Foster didn't hesitate when asked how many turnovers the Huskies should expect from their opponents every Saturday this fall.
"We try to get three," the senior captain said. "I feel like between the D-line, linebackers, safeties and corners, we could definitely make that happen."
One thing the Huskies don't want to happen again is for an opponent to play 60 minutes of error-less football.
"They did a good job," Dennison said of the BYU Cougars last Saturday, "but there were definitely some opportunities where the ball wasn't tucked in or they were carrying the ball loose, and we didn't do a good enough job of getting the ball out. And that's on us."
Snapping a streak of 12 consecutive games with at least one opponent's turnover was not the way the UW defense wanted to start the 2010 season, but the Huskies are confident that the take-aways will come in bunches.
"It's only one game, and we still have 12 more games to cause plenty of turnovers," Dennison said this week. "And that's what we need to emphasize. If we win the turnover battle, that gives us a great advantage for our offense."
Running back Johri Fogerson (hip) did not practice Thursday and is unlikely to play in the game. Sarkisian said earlier this week that he had hoped to give more snaps to true freshman Jesse Callier, and the absence of Fogerson will make that possible. Callier will serve as the No. 2 tailback behind starter Chris Polk. ... Three other true freshmen could also see extended playing time Saturday: tight end Michael Hartvigson and offensive linemen Erik Kohler and Colin Porter. Sarkisian added that Kohler has been temporarily moved inside to guard so that the transition from high school to college football will be less taxing. ... Wide receiver James Johnson (ankle) continues to practice all week, but Sarkisian said he was uncertain how much he'll play Saturday because Cody Bruns "is just not giving up the spot." Bruns, a junior, is the No. 4 receiver behind starters Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar and D'Andre Goodwin.
Story tags » FootballCollege FootballHuskies FootballNCAA Football

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