Fans were intrigued after Head Coach Tyrone Willingham brought in NFL veteran Ed Donatell to fix a defense that ranked 103rd nationally in total defense in 2007. While it will certainly improve, the new look Husky defense didn't fair well in the season opener against Oregon, giving up 44 points and 496 yards of total offense.
"First thing is, we came out, and the quickness of their tempo - they made a big play. We didn't tackle well on a couple of plays. We had some guys in position and we didn't make tackles," explained Donatell. "Our guys settled down, but when we got into the fourth quarter, we didn't finish up at all. It was a game, then it went the other way. I like that they were jolted early, then they stayed the course and settled down, with what I thought was a sophisticated offense."
Despite a lopsided loss to Oregon, Donatell chooses only to look for positives in the defeat.
"That's one of the neat things about college football - the challenge of shifting gears. If you like challenges, it's great stuff. This doesn't challenge me a bit. The bottom line is, we just started. We're teaching, and every time something doesn't go right, it's a great opportunity to teach. Sometimes you've got a couple of things on your plate, a couple of things you want to teach, but there's opportunities to teach," expressed Donatell. "You can take it one way or another as a coach. You can say, wow, I can teach something out of that, or wow, that went bad. I choose to say let's teach. If I tell that to that guy correctly, he'll do that for me. That's what I always use."
Without sugarcoating things, the Huskies missed a lot of tackles that they should have made against the Ducks. Donatell discussed how the team will look to improve it's tackling.
"It's one of the things that's always on your mind in the first game, is how you're going to do it, because we don't fire at each other that much during camp, nobody does. It's not like you have preseason games. We have a couple of scrimmages, and those are indicators. Everything we do, you ask how do we improve that? Everything you do, you have to be more particular on going a step further in practice, without knocking the heck out of each other, because that's not the answer to just hit everybody," said Donatell. "We'll look for any way to augment that, wether it be tackling a sled or wether it be getting position on a little fast guy in practice - trying to be proactive in seeing anything. We want to tackle better, we want to increase our communication and we want to increase our knowledge of situations. Usually, historically, guys spike up in week two, all defenses do."
The defensive line was a question heading into the season, and didn't do much in the Oregon game to erase any and all doubts. However, there is talent there, it's just young and inexperienced. One of those that I speak of is true freshman defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu. Ta'amu didn't start against Oregon, but received significant playing time.
"Everything was fast. It was blurry for the first couple of plays, but once I got used to it, everything kind of fell in place. The speed is much faster, way faster than practice - it's crazy," expressed Ta'amu. "It's pretty much what I expected. The strength wasn't what I expected, our line was much stronger than their line. Just the speed, the speed was way different. The jitters are gone. Coach said we're pretty much veterans now that we're done with our first game, so we've got to play older."
Ta'amu isn't used to playing the 3-3-5 defense that Washington played for a good majority against Oregon, but he feels BYU's style of offense is more suited to the way he plays defense.
"I'm always used to a four-man front. A three-man, you have more responsbilities. Instead of one guy, you have to take care of two," expressed Ta'amu. "BYU is more of a straight up football team, basic team, run it right down the middle. That's more of the offense I like playing against."
Defensive Line Coach Randy Hart was pleased with the line's play, but knows there's a lot of room for improvement.
"A lot of young guys - inexperience showed at times, but they did a good job for the most part," said Hart. "A lot of young guys rotating, trying to get them as many snaps as we can, so they can grow up as fast as they can - they're all veterans now."
However, Donatell doesn't look to inexperience or youth as an excuse.
"From the beginning, we erased any doubts that anybody has, that you can't play as this or you need this much experience. We hold the picture of having experience to these guys, and it doesn't matter. We're going to teach you, we're going to pull together and get this thing done," expressed Donatell. "Most of our energy is on that. Every time you go somewhere, you look and you find a couple of connectors to help you connect the thing together. We have enough guys to connect it all, that's all that matters. You'd like to have two seasoned guys, that's desirable, that's more ideal. Every time you put in a new defense, you're hustling. It's really about getting a level of play."
It's said that the biggest improvement in a team usually happens between week one and week two - something Hart believes to be true. However, the change in offensive schemes may balance out that improvement.
"Week one to week two is usually the biggest jump of the season. A basic technique should improve this week. They've been under the bright lights, they've seen the big crowd, they've heard the noise, they've been around and they've endured all of the distractions. Now it's time, hopefully, to begin to focus a little more on what has to happen," explained Hart. "Unfortunately, it's a different system, so they're going to see this for the first time. They're going to see big guys coming at them for the first time. There will be two big tailbacks, so that's going to be more of a challenge. They're a big, physical football team."
Donatell agrees that the team will get better, but also discussed the challenge in facing vastly different offenses in back-to-back weeks to open the season.
"We're getting better, we're building something here," said Donatell. "But when you see the diversity of opponents, in some ways, you start again, because you're going from total option principals to more of a pro style, I-formation, split back, drop back passing game. We'll need every minute again."
Big news this week comes in the form of true freshman Johri Fogerson making the switch from running back to safety. But to be honest, that move was expected by many.
"I found out Monday at lunch. I got the call from Coach Willingham. I sat in his office and he said he wants me to play safety, so I made the move," explained Fogerson. "Plain and simply he said, we need you on defense. You're going to go and work with them for a little bit, and we'll see how it goes. I'm excited. I'm getting another chance to play."
Fogerson felt his first day of practice with the defense went well.
"I felt really well actually. Defensively, everything is coming back really fast, just flow to the ball and play fast. Both sides of the ball come easy to me," expressed Fogerson. "We'll see how everything plays out. If this is what I'm destined to do, than I'm going to stay at safety."
Fogerson didn't have the advantage of working with the defense throughout Fall practices. However, he's not trying to view that as a negative, rather looking at this as a new opportunity for him to display his talents, which he may have to do sooner than later.
"It's not really frustrating. I'm just going wherever they need help Whatever i takes to win, that's what I'm bound to do. Making this move - if this is the best thing for the team, that's what I have to do. I'm excited about it though. I'm struggling a little bit, learning the plays, but it's coming fast. I'm picking up the basics right now of our own playbook. Hopefully this Saturday I can do a great job."
Secondary Coach J.D. Williams is excited to be working with Fogerson.
"It's good to have him. He adds into the mix right now. It's not a bad thing to have too many good players," said Williams. "I don't know [how quickly he'll see the field]. He's a smart kid. It's just a matter of getting used to the position. That's kind of a hard question, it depends on how quick he picks it up. Hopefully he'll play."
Fogerson's move to defense didn't surprise Williams.
"He was a great defensive player, and we thought eventually he'd come over to defense," said Williams. "That's what he said he really enjoyed, so we just kind of let his wish come true."
Williams feels the defensive players will learn from the mistakes made in the Oregon game, but knows there's no room to let up with a tough opponent like BYU coming into town this week.
"I think the kids realize some mistakes were made - find out solutions to get them corrected, and those are simple. We had a situation where their receiver catches a hitch and runs up field, which is kind of a miscommunication there, and those can be corrected. It wasn't anything where they physically beat us. It was some mental mistakes going on, but we'll be fine," expressed Williams. "BYU is a different type of offense, but what they do, they do well. They have a great quarterback, two good receivers, and their tight end is probably one of the best in the country. We've got our challenge. They are disciplined in what they do and they have a great system."
Donatell further discussed the challenge of facing BYU's offense.
"They have built a nice balance into it. They have an excellent player at the running back position, who can run and catch the football. They've got a guy that can deliver the ball to them. No question the tight end is outstanding and the quarterback has two fine receivers that he gets the ball to and one that he really leans on when he needs something. Because of the way they structure their program, they always have experience on the offensive line, so they don't get the guy knocked down a lot. This looks a little more like pro style offense. The problem is, they look too much like a pro team the way they play. They're very efficient and they obviously have a system, a very good one. Through the years, they've held together the integrity of the offensive principles and they've stood the test of time."
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