Holt Has Huskies Defense Hitting

Sept. 25, 2009

The Associated Press

SEATTLE -- A few days later, Washington linebacker E.J. Savannah still wasn't aware of the trouble Nick Holt got himself into last Saturday.

As usual, the Huskies fiery defensive coordinator was hopping all over the sideline during last Saturday's 16-13 upset of Southern California. On a third-and-17 in the third quarter, the Trojans completed a pass for 14 yards. But during the play Holt just happened to hop on the playing field, right in front of an official on the sideline.

The flag flew, and the additional five yards gave USC a first down.

'I did not know that. But he is intense like that,' Savannah said. 'We love it though. It's rubbing off on us. We get penalties all the time. He gets one, it's OK. He's got to play with it.'

Holt's demanding, sometimes gruff attitude is paying off early with a Washington defense that a year ago was the worst in school history and one of the worst in the country.

Understanding and admitting there were personnel deficiencies in some areas of his defense, Holt has brought a hybrid approach to Washington. It's a mix of the aggressive, full-on attack he used as USC's defensive coordinator, combined with a bend-but-don't-break attitude that has worked for the No. 24 Huskies so far.

Although the numbers aren't great, they are a stark improvement from 2008.

For example, the Huskies allowed 360 yards to the Trojans, including 250 on the ground. But the Huskies forced three turnovers, caused two other fumbles that USC recovered and forced the Trojans to go 0 for 10 on third-down conversions.

Those numbers are more impressive when considering USC had 148 offensive yards on its first two drives and regularly gashed the Huskies defense for long runs.

'It's a credit to Nick and our defensive staff to not panic and not go with calls that could have got us out of position. We went right back to the basics of calling our defense the way we know how to do it,' Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. 'We tackled and not only did we tackle, we tackled the football and that showed up.'

How much improved are the Huskies? Last year through three games against Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma, the Huskies were giving up more than 520 yards per game. This year, facing a slightly less daunting slate of LSU, Idaho and USC, the improved Huskies are giving up 364 yards per game.

In his first season at Washington, Holt has been given complete control of the defense. His talks with players are a mix of blunt criticism about missed assignments and uplifting praise as he rebuilds.

'Since the day you meet him, he kind of rubs off on you,' Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim said. 'He's very intense.'

That came through in that penalty during the USC game. Infuriated by a missed tackle on the previous play, Holt said he became too involved trying to make sure his player made the tackle the next time.

'It was totally, totally bad, irresponsible football coaching by myself, caught up in the heat of the moment making a bad play,' he said.

But he's concentrating on making sure there are fewer bad plays. The win over USC certainly helps, validating the schemes being taught and getting more players to accept the ideas of the staff.

'It gives you credibility as a coach because they start believing more,' Holt said. 'Now we can take them places maybe they didn't want to be taken. Every day it's a process with these guys.'

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