For the most part, the Washington football team that whipped Boise State on Saturday was a veteran team, chock-full of returning starters on both sides of the ball.
For the most part.
While the Huskies returned 18 of 22 starters from last season’s team, there is one spot where they are a bit thin on past starting experience, and that is in the secondary. It’s the only group where the Huskies lost two starters from last season, as cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Justin Glenn both graduated.
However, despite entering the season with questions in the defensive backfield, the group may have put together the most complete effort on the field in game one.
After getting torched by Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, to the tune of 264 yards and two touchdowns, a group with two new starters in safety Will Shamburger and cornerback Greg Ducre neutralized Southwick, keeping his receivers covered downfield and slowing down a high-tempo Bronco offense.
Southwick completed 25-of-40 passes Saturday, for 152 yards and an interception. The senior struggled to get into a rhythm, leading the Broncos to just two field goals on the night.
This is made all the more impressive because of Boise State’s notable size advantage downfield. Each of Boise State’s top three wide receivers is 6-foot-3 or taller, while the tallest starter in the UW’s secondary is Shamburger at 6-foot. But the UW secondary found ways to make up for the size difference.
“It’s not about how tall or short we are, it’s a matter of how disciplined we are with our techniques,” Shamburger said. “As long as we have good technique, that is going to win nine out of 10 times. As we trust our coaches and our discipline with our techniques and our assignments, then I feel like we can put our hands on the receivers and be able to play like we did Saturday.”
Stepping into Trufant’s old role covering the opposition’s No. 1 wideout, Peters was phenomenal, making seven tackles and a key pass breakup in the end zone. Opposite him, Ducre had four tackles. The two cornerbacks held Boise’s top two receivers, Geraldo Boldewijn and Matt Miller, to 93 yards receiving on 14 catches, an average of 6.4 yards a catch. Last season, opposing teams averaged 11.8 yards a catch against the Huskies.
“I felt that we played well,” Peters said. “We could have been better with some things. Sometimes our technique got a little bit down, and they beat us on some plays that we shouldn’t have gotten beat on. We have to keep relying on our technique and trusting in our defensive schemes, and just go out there and keep playing as a defense.”
The UW’s safeties were excellent too. Shamburger, taking over for Glenn at one of the safety spots, had seven tackles and assisted on one tackle-for-loss. Sean Parker, one of the Huskies’ defensive leaders and a team captain, had five tackles and an interception.
“Everybody had very good eye discipline and our tackling was pretty good,” Shamburger said. “We had missed tackles here and there but we finished strong towards the second half. We did our responsibility by relying on our technique and our alignment.”
Only one game has been played, but if that one is any indication, the defensive backs may actually improve, despite losing Trufant and Glenn. Of course, there are improvements that still need to be made, even after allowing only two field goals to a good team. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox pointed to the technique of the defensive backs and the tackling of the entire defense after he counted 17 failed tackling opportunities during the game.
“We played pretty physical in our coverage, and I thought that was good for us in terms of the matchups,” Wilcox said. “There were a couple points, especially later in drives, where our technique began to get a little bit sloppy, so that has to be a point of emphasis for us.”
On the whole, it was a good first showing for a group working together as starters for the first time.
For the most part.
Reach reporter Daniel Rubens at email@example.com. Twitter: @drubens12
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