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Tue., Dec. 27, 2011

If trends continue, defenses will be tested

Having become proficient in both reading and arithmetic well before he arrived at the University of Washington 3½ years ago, senior defensive lineman Everette Thompson doesn’t need anyone to spell out the expectations for Thursday’s Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

When the Huskies and Baylor Bears get together at the Alamodome, the offensive numbers could go through the roof.

The two offenses combined for 963 yards and 75 points per game during the regular season while the defenses gave up a combined 904 and 69, respectively.

So how do Thompson and the UW defenders feel about the predictions of an offense-heavy bowl game?

“It’s a little chip on my shoulder,” he said. “But this is an opportunity for us to cash in and make something happen.”

For the UW defense, Thursday’s game marks the final chance to salvage some respect in a season that has felt all too familiar. For the third time in defensive coordinator Nick Holt’s three-year tenure at UW, the Huskies rank in the bottom three teams in the conference in points allowed per game. Only 21 teams among the 120 that play in the Football Bowl Subdivision have allowed more points than the 400 allowed by UW during the 12-game regular season.

A unit that was supposed to be coming into its own in Year 3 of the Holt era has instead taken another step back. And Thursday will mark the defense’s final chance to stop the bleeding.

“It’s a big opportunity for us to go out there and execute, do it for each other and for the coaches,” Thompson said.

The UW defense couldn’t have a more difficult obstacle. Baylor ranks second in the nation in yards per game (571.3), sixth in points per game (43.5) and features the nation’s most exciting player in Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

As offensive teams go, Baylor is as good as it gets.

“They try to catch you out of position with the tempo,” UW linebacker Cort Dennison said. “They’re just a really good football team. They do a lot of things right, and they’re obviously led by a good quarterback.”

Griffin set the NCAA record with a 192.31 passer rating, and had the best season in a year replete of star quarterbacks.

But he’s not the Bears’ only weapon.

“He’s a playmaker, obviously,” UW’s Thompson said. “They’ve got a tremendous offense, some good skill players. It’s going to be a good matchup.”

If, that is, the Huskies can reverse the course that has themranked 94th in the nation in yards allowed per game and 116th in passing yards allowed per game. They’ve matched the program record for season passing yards allowed (3,405).

UW hasn’t exactly risen to the occasion in big games, either, having allowed 1,886 yards in its four games against ranked opponents. In each of the three against ranked opponents on the road, the Huskies allowed 425 yards or more.

And yet UW defenders are confident they can turn it around, and point to the rags-to-riches performance in a bowl game last year is an indicator.

“We’re getting more and more comfortable with everything,” Dennison said. “We showed that in the Apple Cup, where we did a lot of things right.”

If there is an obvious starting point, it’s in limiting the big plays.

“These guys are explosive,” said Holt, noting “they chuck the ball (with Griffin) and run the ball (with Griffin and Terrance Ganaway).

“So we’ve got to make them work the length of the field and not give up the explosive plays for touchdowns,” he added.

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