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Pac-12: Maligned Huskies defense gets its shot at RG3

Published December 20, 2011 4:58 pm

College Football • Washington defense sees Alamo Bowl as chance to redeem itself
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Seattle • Watching the Heisman Trophy presentation, Washington linebacker Cort Dennison couldn't stop himself from quietly pulling for Baylor's Robert Griffin III to win the award.

"He's a great player. Him winning the Heisman just makes it (more fun) for us, because it's a bigger challenge for us," Dennison said.

Dennison's odd wish to face Griffin could turn to regret come Dec. 29 when the Huskies take on the 15th-ranked Bears in the Alamo Bowl.

It's not that Washington isn't embracing the chance to face a Heisman winner and potentially finish the season with eight wins for the first time since 2001; it's that the defense hasn't exactly been a strength for the Huskies and Baylor has the second-best offense in the country. Baylor averaged more than 570 yards of offense per game this season and Griffin was responsible for 386 each time out.

Oh, and the Bears averaged 43 points per game, too.

"It's fun to watch them against other guys. But, no, no, it's not fun at all," Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt said of preparations for the game. "He's a heck of a player."

Holt will need to find some answers to quell a growing rumbling among Huskies fans unhappy with the continuing struggles of Washington's defense. Washington ended the season giving up more than 425 yards and 33.3 points per game. Those totals were dramatic steps back from a year ago, although this Washington defense featured far more youth with two freshmen linebackers and other first-year players on the defensive line.

Most embarrassing for the Huskies was surrendering 65 points and 615 total yards in a midseason blowout loss at Stanford. Washington also gave up 51 points to Nebraska, 40 to USC and 38 against Oregon State, and only twice in 12 games held an opposing offense under 350 total yards.

Now comes the dynamic Griffin. Only twice this season — against Kansas State and Texas A&M — were the Bears held under 500 yards of total offense, but both times finished with more than 400.

What's impressed Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is Griffin's accuracy considering the Bears aren't shy about taking shots down field. Griffin completed 72 percent of his passes and was intercepted six times in 369 pass attempts.

"You hear about a guy and his gaudy stats and all the lack of incompletions and the touchdown passes, and you think, 'Oh, he must be dinkin' and dunkin' the ball around,'" Sarkisian said. "You turn on the film and he is throwing the ball down the field. That's what is most impressive about him."

If there is anything that suggests Washington may have a chance at slowing down Griffin, it's what the Huskies did a year ago in the Holiday Bowl. Facing the same Nebraska team that routed Washington 56-21 in Seattle in the regular season, the Huskies held the Cornhuskers to 189 total yards in a stunning 19-7 bowl victory.

But the Cornhuskers didn't have a dynamic star like Griffin. Facing Griffin marks the first time Washington has faced the reigning Heisman winner in a bowl game since the 1992 Rose Bowl — where the Huskies claimed a share of the national championship with a suffocating 34-14 rout of Michigan and Heisman winner Desmond Howard.

Howard was held to one catch on a day remembered more for Washington receiver Mario Bailey striking the Heisman pose after scoring a late touchdown than anything Howard did.

The Huskies can only hope this Heisman matchup ends that well.