SEATTLE – If University of Washington senior defensive end Daniel T’eo-Nesheim was a coach, his motivational speech to a wounded defense this week might be three words long.
“Don’t miss tackles,” T’eo-Nesheim said Monday when asked what the Huskies need to do to improve their run defense.
In addition to being a team captain, T’eo-Nesheim could carry the title of Captain Obvious.
After giving up 571 rushing yards in the past two games, including 321 to Stanford on Saturday, the UW defense is out to solve its most visible problem. The Huskies have four days at the fix-it shop before leaving Thursday for South Bend, Ind., and Saturday’s date with Notre Dame.
“It starts with the run,” senior linebacker Donald Butler said. “Whenever you can slow them down and put them in passing situations, that helps. But obviously, we have to stop the run.”
The two most obvious things that have held the run defense back have been missed tackles and blown assignments. Spending more quality time in the film room might help the latter, but the tackling part is a bit more tricky.
As T’eo-Nesheim said: “Tackling is a mindset. … It’s more mental than physical.”
Head coach Steve Sarkisian said the coaches don’t have plans to make any lineup changes, and there were no obvious ones when the defense lined up for practice Monday. Rather, the Huskies just need to work on their fundamentals this week, Sarkisian said.
The root of the problem in Saturday’s game, Sarkisian added, was that the Huskies were giving too much “respect” to Stanford’s 235-pound running back, Toby Gerhart. UW defenders were adjusting their form while trying to bring down the bruising runner, who ended up with 200 yards on 27 carries in Stanford’s 34-14 win.
“We had guys that were going much lower than they’ve ever gone, and we missed,” Sarkisian said. “We had other guys who were trying to hit him and not wrap him up.
“We’re a team that has wrapped up extremely well (this season). That’s why we’ve been able to play so successful in the red zone against teams that have moved the ball, because we do wrap up, we do tackle well. We didn’t do that this week.”
Gerhart’s 60-yard touchdown run saw him break tackles from two UW defensive backs. He added a 16-yard run later in the first half while hurdling a Huskies linebacker.
“Ultimately, all the expertise that can go into it, all of the scientific stuff that goes into it – breakdowns, film study – the bottom line (is) when a guy has the ball in his hands, and you’re there, we have to tackle him,” Sarkisian said. “So we’ll address it this week.”
Butler was among several players eager to get back out on the field.
“I was pretty embarrassed on Saturday,” he said. “Stanford lined up and ran two or three different plays against us in the run game and said: ‘Stop us.’ And we didn’t, so they just kept running the same plays.”
When safety Nate Williams was asked what the Huskies need to work on this week, he was quick with his answer.
“Obviously, practice the ‘Power’ a little more,” he said, referring to the play Stanford ran continually Saturday. “That’s the run play that hurt us the most.”
As a result, the Huskies now rank 106th out of 120 Division I teams – and 10th in the Pac-10 – in run defense, allowing an average of 195.8 rushing yards per game.
“I think things are there that we can fix,” Sarkisian said. “I think we’ll only get better – not only from a schematic standpoint, but a physical standpoint – and understand how we need to play to combat things like that when they come about.”
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