September 12, 2007
For the Washington Huskies, it has been a long time since they cracked the top twenty-five. This year may be different, after two dominant performances against the good, Boise State, and the bad, Syracuse. Many experts are now expecting the Huskies to pull off an upset at home this Saturday against the mighty Ohio State.
Probably the most surprising aspect of this resurgence is not the play of red shirt freshman quarterback Jake Locker, but the play of the energized defense. Nicknamed “Purple Hurt” by senior corner-back Roy Lewis, this defense has already forced six turnovers in two games, nearly half of the fourteen forced all of last year. Lewis has now established himself as a leader and mentor on the defense. Lewis got in to the act against Boise State as he recorded his third career interception off of Boise State’s Taylor Tharp last Saturday.
No matter how well the veterans play, the key to success lays in the hands of the freshman. Both corner-back Vonzell Mcdowell and safety Nate Williams are true freshman thrust in to the staring roles in the Huskies secondary due to a multitude or personnel issues. As true freshmen they are already playing from behind when it comes to learning a new system and speed of the college game, but both have responded to the challenge thus far. Against Syracuse, Williams broke up a sure touchdown in the third quarter and Mcdowell intercepted a pass late against Boise State to clinch the victory. This unit may be the most inexperienced, but will be under the microscope all season.
The purple heart beat of this defense is no doubt in the front seven. The success against superior teams is dependent on the ability of the huskies to take the opposing quarterbacks out of their comfort zone, cliché I know but it is true. Washington has found a diamond in the rough in Caesar Rayford. The senior defensive end and pass rushing specialist has displayed a knack for getting to the quarterback and doing damage. He has recorded a sack in each of the first to games and shows no signs of slowing down. Rayford’s resume is not long but it includes some season altering plays that include a fourth down sack in the apple cup and a game saving block of an extra point, both happened last year. Rayford and company must play possessed and get through the mystique of Ohio State.
Other factors in this unit are senior defensive end Grayson Gunheim, defensive tackle Jordan Reffett, and linebackers Trenton Tuiasosopo, Dan Howell, Don Butler, and E.J. Savannah. Up until this week the unsung hero of this unit has been the game plan put together by defensive coordinator Kent Baer. Baer’s mix of three and four man fronts on the defensive line has mitigated the inexperience in the secondary. Against a quality offense, Baer’s defense held a Boise State team averaging over 40 points a game, to a mere 10.
With Washington at 29th in the polls, a win over Ohio State will most certainly propel them in to the top twenty-five. Don't say it's uncharted territory, for many of the players and especially for Coach Willingham, this is where they expect to be. For the “purple hurt,” it’s top twenty-five or bust.