September 25, 2008

Road gets a little easier for Husky defense

The Huskies will look to notch their first win of the season this weekend when they host the Cardinal of Stanford. While a Pac-10 opponent should never be taken lightly, Stanford is certainly a break, to some degree, from the likes of Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma - Washington's first three opponents of the season and all top 25 ranked teams nationally.

"There's a lot of importance on this game. We've had a week to get our guys back together, refocus and work on our needs," explained Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell. There's a lot of intensity, and we want to be that team that gets in the win column, so we're putting everything we can into it. Our full intentions are to win this game, no matter what. These guys are Pac-10 football players - they're here to win and be a part of a great tradition. What we want to do as coaches, is give them the formula to do that."

The road to a win looks a lot more manageable this week against Stanford, a team that has not had a lot of success passing the ball this season. This season, Cardinal junior quarterback Tavita Pritchard has completed 45-of-84 passes for 469 yards and one touchdown to four interceptions. However, Donatell is not overlooking Stanford's scheme or Pritchard's ability.

"This is a balanced team and they have a passing game that we respect. They've always had good principles. They're based out of the west coast, that's their background - well coached group," said Donatell. "They've got a good power running game, and I've always had respect for their passing game as well. Pritchard is a big, strong kid that has good movement. Week-by-week I've been more impressed with this guy's movement, to get out of the pocket. They're mixing some run game with him, where you'll see the shotgun runs that you see Jake [Locker] do - some of those same runs from the spread are mixed into this offense."

But make no mistake, it is the run that Stanford will rely on to wear down Washington's defense. Cardinal junior Toby Gerhart leads the attack with 72 rushes on the season for 407 yards and five touchdowns. The Husky defense has had troubles stopping....containing the running game this season, and at 230-pounds, Gerhart is a big-bodied back who should provide a lot of difficulties.

"That's the emphasis this week, no question about it. We know that we've got to get into this guy, get into his legs and wrap him tight. The evidence is in the film - this guy has made nice runs in every game," expressed Donatell of Gerhart. "Really, he's most dangerous when he's stopped - he'll bounce off and get going. He's faster than what people think he is, because we've seen him make long runs against people - a nice combination of effort, running and the ability to pound you. When he gets out, you better respect him and you better be on your game."

Junior linebacker Josh Gage is well aware of the importance of slowing the Cardinal running game.

"With football in general, once you can stop the run, it limits teams to a lot of things, takes away from their pass. We're definitely focusing on that and hopefully that will happen. We'll definitely be geared up for the run," explained Gage. "Gerhart is a great player. One of the things we're trying to do is really rally to the ball, get 11 hats there hitting him - that's what you do on a good back like that, you get a lot of people hitting him."

The linebacker corp will need to step up against Stanford and it's strong running game, especially with the youth at both the defensive line and the secondary.

"We're stressing fundamentals, getting better, getting off blocks, tackling, wrapping up, bringing in our feet, reading keys and reacting quicker - just all the fundamentals that help you become a better player," explained Linebackers Coach Chris Tormey. "He's [Gerhart] a great runner. He's strong, he breaks tackles, he keeps his feet driving. He has a great effort and mentality. If he gets hit, he keeps going. In every game, you'll see one or two plays where it looks like he's stopped and he's not. I think Gerhart has the most power of any back that we've seen so far. So we're going to have to do a great job of wrapping him up, gang tackling and getting a lot of people to the ball."

True freshman safety Johri Fogerson[db] should make his second career start in only his second career game. Fogerson participated in Fall camp as a running back, only to be moved to safety a few days before the BYU game. Fogerson did all a coach could reasonably ask for from a player in his position, leading the Huskies in tackles against Oklahoma with nine.

"It was crazy, it was fun - that atmosphere was wild, I had fun," exclaimed Fogerson of his first career game. "Ten months ago, the game was a lot slower than it is now. Guys were a lot smaller and not as physical as I was, but now everybody is either as physical or more and they're a lot bigger than I am or faster - just gives me more reason to work harder."

Not only was Fogerson thrown into the fire so to speak, he was thrown into the fire of the Oklahoma offense - a no huddle offense that can be tough for veterans to defend, let alone a true freshman playing in his first game. But Fogerson gained a confidence that is invaluable.

"With them, you talk about a no huddle, that was the fastest no huddle that I've seen, even from watching the Oregon game on tv, it didn't seem that fast," exclaimed Fogerson. "That was just mind blowing truthfully. As the game went on though, it slowed down and I was able to collect myself, I was able to make plays. After the first couple of plays, the anxiety died down. After getting the first contact, it was all out. I gained a lot of confidence. I proved to myself that I can play at this level. The coaches believed in me, so they obviously knew I could do it. Now I just need to go out there and play hard every time."

While some people may be surprised of Fogerson's play against Oklahoma, Donatell wasn't.

"That was the vision that we had, that he could do it, or we wouldn't of had him out there. To throw him in against that group is a tall order, it really is, because there's going to be some balls getting to the second level when you're playing a group like that. So there's more shots on a player like that in his first start against a quality opponent - that makes it a steeper hill for him," explained Donatell. "You have to have a mental makeup. He has a little inner confidence about him, resiliency and those kind of things. I wouldn't do it with a guy if it would be the wrong thing to do, if he didn't have the right makeup."

The Huskies had a bye week last week, something Fogerson feels he benefitted greatly from. Fogerson also feels the bye week has given the Huskies a fresh start so-to-speak.

"I'm glad I had a bye week, because now I'm actually caught up on everything and I know all the checks, I'm ready to play. I don't have to think anymore, I can just out there and run around wild. Last week I was just catching up to everything and now I'm full flow, I'm ready to go, not a lot of thinking going on anymore. I think the game will be slower this time, and I'll be physically ready for it," expressed Fogerson. "We've got a fresh start, we're ready to go. That bye week was great, everybody is healthy and we're all good to go."

Donatell shared in Fogerson's sentiments of the positives of a bye week, for not only Fogerson, but for all of the young defensive players.

"The biggest thing in the bye week that felt different than any bye week I've been around - there's never been so many youthful guys. Alameda [Ta'amu] missed some work because he had some dental work done. But the other guys that have played a lot - [db]Johri Fogerson - to have another week with him and throw some live looks at him, experiment, test him, do those kind of things is important. Everrette [Thompson] and Senio [Kelemete] - it's huge for those guys. I don't know how you could have a better situation for them after getting thrown into it, be able to get quality work. I saw those guys improve, I saw that, I liked that."

And with a young group of defenders, and a very young group of defensive linemen, things have been rough for the Huskies thus far, but Donatell feels the tide will turn and knows the importance of the game against Stanford.

"We really like this class of guys, it's a neat class of young guys. You may not like the last performance we had, but somewhere along the line, you're going to like it, sooner rather than later," said Donatell. "You're going to like these guys. These guys are going to be good Huskies for a long time - we're excited to work with them. But we also know this isn't trial and error, we need to win this week."

Will a win against Stanford take the monkey off the back of the Husky players?

"A little bit, yeah," responded Gage. "You definitely want that first win, it's nice. We think we're going to get more after that, but that first one, yeah. It gives you a little more confidence, a little bit more swagger. It will make everybody a little bit hungrier too. We're all pretty dang hungry right now, but once you start getting wins, you only get hungrier."

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