Foes are running by and through Dawgs

  • John Sleeper / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, October 25, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By John Sleeper

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – It was late in the game, and Washington was sweating out a game against an Arizona team that had been waxed the previous three weeks.

Although quarterback Cody Pickett would lace the Wildcats defense for a school-record 455 yards, Arizona hung in, largely on the chiseled shoulders of Clarence Farmer, its 220-pound tailback.

Farmer ran for 147 yards that day, a impressive showing to be sure. But then, impressive showings, specifically on the ground, haven’t been unusual against the Huskies this season.

UCLA’s DeShaun Foster: 301 yards on 31 carries.

USC’s Sultan McCullough: 132 yards on 32 carries.

Michigan’s Chris Perry: 95 yards on 24 carries.

The lasting image Saturday was Farmer knifing through a hole in the UW front line the size of a reservoir en route to a 16-yard TD run.

He scored virtually untouched.

“We’re not stopping the run consistently,” UW defensive coordinator Tim Hundley said. “All of a sudden, we’re running by some ball carriers.”

Teams are learning they can run on Washington. Whether it’s McCullough bursting through between the tackles, Perry running around end or Foster gliding wherever he pleases, the Huskies are third-worst in the Pacific-10 Conference in rushing yards yielded. Among the nation’s 115 Division I teams, the Huskies rank 70th in rush defense.

“I don’t know what it is,” free safety Wondame Davis said. “We have really good hitters on our team. It hasn’t been showing in the last couple of weeks. We have to do a better job.”

Said inside linebacker Ben Mahdavi: “We know how to do it. We’re the only ones holding ourselves back. We’re seeing some really good offensive lines, but we shouldn’t be giving away that many yards.”

It’s not that the defense isn’t capable. When it needed to get the offense the ball back against Arizona, it stopped the Wildcats on three plays. That set up Pickett’s 3-yard run that gave Washington a 31-28 victory.

Still, it was a game in which the Huskies gave up 394 yards, 199 yards on the ground, to an offense that mustered just 159 yards total the week before against Oregon State.

“Consistency is the issue,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We look great at times. On that last drive, when we had to stop them, that was vintage Husky defense. Unfortunately, we’re getting cut out of gaps at times and the guys who are free are not making the tackles consistently enough. It gasses you and you stay on the field longer than you probably should.”

To be fair, against Arizona, the UW offense put the defense in bad spots. The defense was caught in a slew of “sudden changes,” or turnovers that suddenly brought them back onto the field. As good as Pickett was Saturday, he did throw four interceptions. The Huskies also turned the ball over when punt returner Charles Frederick and blocker Matthias Wilson inexplicably collided.

“All of a sudden, you’re out on the field and you’ve got to play and play well right away,” Neuheisel said. “I thought they responded, for the most part, pretty well. While there’s concern, I don’t know that there’s any feeling that we’re not capable.”

Much of the problem, defenders say, comes down to basics, basic tackling. Too many times, defenders are relying on the initial hit to bring down a runner and failing to wrap him up during contact.

“You have to wrap them up,” linebacker Sam Blanche said. “If you don’t wrap them up, the good backs just keep running.”

Yes, the Huskies have faced great runners. They’ll face another good one Saturday. Arizona State’s Delvon Flowers ran for 226 yards against Oregon State.

“Physical, physical, physical,” Blanche said. “We just need to stop them, point-blank. Good backs are going to get their yards. We just have to keep their yards to a minimum.”

Too many times, however, it’s been maximum yardage.

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