UW’s Williams and Akbar will hit anything that moves
By JOHN SLEEPER
SEATTLE — The tendency is to look at Hakim Akbar’s and Curtis Williams’ impressive tackle totals and get the wrong impression.
More than a few who have noticed that Akbar and Williams are 1-3, respectively, in the number of tackles for the Washington Huskies and concluded that the safeties are forced to make that many because of breakdowns in the defense.
In reality, it is because of their athleticism and cheerful thirst for headhunting that produce the stops. The Huskies demand a lot of their safeties, whom many believe are the best in the Pacific-10 Conference, if not in the nation.
"I don’t know that you could be any more pleased with their play," UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We ask a lot of them. We ask them to be involved in run support. We ask them to be involved in pass coverage. We blitz them. They have to play almost every position on the field and both have racked up a lot of tackles."
"They are a big part of the heart and soul of the defense."
The difference in their play between last year and this season is vast. Now more comfortable in the schemes, Akbar and Williams are letting their athleticism flow. Rarely do they ever let themselves get beaten on deep patterns, something that was a problem a year ago.
But along with the pass coverage comes a frightening ability to stop the run. Williams, at 190 pounds, and Akbar, at 210, hit with the force of linebackers.
"They’re playing pretty well right now," safeties coach Bobby Hauck said. "It’s a credit to them. They studied the game and got themselves ready mentally as well as physically. It’s exciting to see."
Washington appears to be set at safety for some time. Although Williams is a senior, Akbar is just a junior. In addition, true freshmen Greg Carothers and Jimmy Newell have gotten playing time, spelling the starters when needed.
"They’re going to be good," Hauck said. "Greg is really coming on. He’s still a true freshman, but he’s really playing well right now. Jimmy’s doing a great job in there, too. Who knows how far along those guys will be a year or two from now? They’ve been pressed into service as freshmen, but they’re both doing a nice job."
Their development has had to be accelerated because of the demands on the starters, Hauck said.
"It’s about the tempo we expect, the pace we expect our starters to give," Hauck said. "When they’re on the field, we expect them to play with a certain amount of intensity. It’s a high-impact position. They’ve got to run a long distance to the ball and they’ve got to do that on every play. I don’t believe our starters can play 70 plays at that level. They just can’t. I don’t think it’s physically possible for them. So the freshmen have to spell them when they tell us they need a break. We’re secure in the fact that the young guys can hold up their end of the bargain."
Much of the time, Akbar and Williams line up virtually next to the linebackers. Seemingly, it would leave them vulnerable to the deep ball. Yet, both can read the play and react quickly enough to get into pass coverage.
That was no more evident than in Washington’s 21-15 victory over Arizona State Saturday. While both had a hand in limiting ASU to 60 yards rushing, they also helped force Sun Devil quarterbacks into completing just 15 of 46 passes. ASU’s longest completion was 45 yards, and that came late in the game, when wideout Justin Taplin made an astonishing catch in double coverage.
Just one week prior, ASU rolled up 394 yards on just 11 completions against Cal. But the deep ball that Cal defenders had so many problems with was something that Washington made look simple.
"We didn’t change much (for ASU)," Akbar said. "We just had to play our responsibilities. When the offensive line showed run, move up. When they show pass, fall back."
When they do fall back, receivers have reason to worry. Akbar and Williams administer the most devastating hits in the conference.
"We take the attitude that we’re the baddest people out there," Akbar said. "We dislike receivers. Tight ends. Running backs. We dislike them all. And we’re going to do whatever it takes to let them know that they’d better watch their back. It helps to make them think that we’re going to come from nowhere and knock their head off. Maybe they’re not running the play they’re supposed to be running or they’re tiptoeing.
"When I see them, it’s no holding back. I just go."
And whoever has the ball stops. Quickly.
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