SEATTLE – Amid all the questions that surrounded the University of Washington football team heading into its 2010 season, there seemed to be only one known commodity.
UW’s high-octane offense would carry the team, while the defense would scramble to keep up.
And yet as the Huskies cling to a shred of postseason hope, it’s the UW defense that has been shining as of late and keeping the season alive.
The much-maligned Huskies defense has been playing its best football in recent weeks.
“It’s the same thing as last year, these last couple games we’re firing on all cylinders as a defense,” safety Nate Fellner said. “We’re really coming along. We just have to take that momentum to Cal.”
Since UW quarterback Jake Locker suffered a cracked rib late last month, the Huskies have scored just three offensive touchdowns while averaging only 230.3 yards per game. Over that same stretch, the defense has gradually found its way after a horrid start to the season.
The Huskies were the first team this season to hold Oregon’s No. 1-ranked offense scoreless for the first quarter of a game, and UW’s defense kept the Huskies in that game until midway through the third quarter.
Eleven days later against UCLA, the Huskies put on their finest 60 minutes of defensive football while holding the Bruins to 163 yards and seven points.
“We’ve definitely stepped our game up,” middle linebacker Cort Dennison said. “I think (cornerback) Quinton Richardson has really stepped his game up, and I think it definitely shows.”
Richardson’s play seems to have reflected that of the Huskies defense all season. When he was struggling early in the year – Richardson got benched during the course of games against USC and Arizona – UW’s defense got run over. Since the opening drive of the Oregon game, when Richardson shed a blocker and dropped Ducks receiver Jeff Maehl for a four-yard loss, the junior cornerback has been playing some of his best football. In the past two games, he has a forced fumble, two pass breakups and an interception that he returned for a touchdown against UCLA.
“He’s probably our most improved player on defense,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “He’s come a long way. He started off shaky, but he kept battling. He’s been coachable. We gave him a lot of opportunities, and now it’s paying off.”
The Huskies, who need to win their last two games to qualify for a bowl game, have also gotten improved safety play, a steady pass rush and stout run defense from interior d-linemen like Alameda Ta’amu and Semisi Tokolahi.