Why Steve Sarkisian Is To Blame For Washington's Defensive Problems

By Lars Hanson

The University of Washington football program is back on the map after a long absence under Tyrone Willingham. When you’re on the map you’re under more pressure to perform then you were off it. Nick Holt and the Washington coaching staff are realizing that after the 65-21 shellacking handed down by Stanford.

Most of the heat coming from fans and media around the Seattle area is being directed at defensive coordinator Nick Holt. Most of the time if the defense isn’t up to par compared to the offense it would make sense to blame the defensive coordinator.

I don’t see it that way in this case. The reason Nick Holt’s defense has been struggling is because the man who brought him here is hindering the growth, Steve Sarkisian. Now Holt does call the defensive plays so some of the blame does fall on his shoulders however he’s got almost nothing to work with.

Since Holt and Sarkisian came to Washington in 2009 the Huskies offense has always had the higher priority in terms of recruiting. Coming off an 0-12 season Sarkisian inherited a team that was essentially depleted in terms of quality Pac-10 (now Pac-12) talent.

Jake Locker had a quality supporting cast with emerging runningback Chris Polk and sophomore wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. Defensively Seattle was led by senior linebacker Donald Butler and defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim along with junior’s Mason Foster Victor Aiyewa.

In three years at Washington that was the best defensive group Nick Holt has had. Since then all four players have gone onto the NFL and their replacements have been more like the 2000 hit movie staring Keanu Reeves. The numbers show the decline defensively since 2009 and there’s one reason why.


Since Sarkisian has taken over each of Washington’s three recruiting classes has been chalked full of offensive studs and defensive duds. The class of 2009 produced quarterback Keith Price, wide receiver James Johnson,  cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Nate Fellner.

Price is now in his first full season as the starting quarterback and has this offense poised to break several school records. Johnson is coming off a 2010 season riddled with injuries and performing well with 314 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Defensively Trufant has been beaten and bruised by just about every offense Washington has played this season. Fellner has emerged as one of the more vocal leaders defensively along with linebacker Cort Dennison. Needless to say the class of 2009 benefited Sarkisian a lot more than Holt.

2010 has shown more promise with safety Sean Parker and defensive tackle Sione Potoa’e but their both still young and growing. Parker, a true sophomore, has shown the most improvement on defense becoming more of a sideline-to-sideline safety this season. The class of 2010 hasn’t brought much in terms of immediate impact but long-term will benefit Holt more.

Heading in the right directing with Parker, Potoa’e and Shirley the class of 2011 setback Nick Holt more than anyone could realize. An offensively dominated class led by wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins along with Derrick Brown and Bishop Sankey.

The only defensive recruit that has made an impact is defensive tackle Danny Shelton. A 6-3 300 lbs Shelton possesses great size and strength at the point of attack defensively but it’s not a one man show. Now I’m not saying that Washington shouldn’t recruit star offensive players because no offense equals no wins so there needs to be a balancing act.

When you look at the other three major BCS conferences you see a solid balancing act in recruiting both offensive and defensive players to perform at the highest level. Even within the Pac-12 a good majority of schools have the recruiting balancing act down.

The only problem Washington faces in the recruiting war is the fact that it’s Washington. Washington will never be the Alabama’s, LSU’s and Florida’s of the world recruiting the top athletes from coast to coast. However Washington can be the USC’s of the world in due time.

Washington is on the rise and at 5-2 heading into week seven they are farther along then they were in 2010 and much farther along then they were in 2009. Steve Sarkisian has the offense firing and with a little more talent in the trenches Washington could have a consistent top 10 offense.

The one roadblock that Sarkisian and Holt will need to workout is the balancing act in recruiting. The class of 2012 is loaded with local talent: Josh Garnett (OT), Zach Banner (OT) and KeiVarae Russell (RB). Regionally Washington is in good shape in terms of interest from highly rated defensive recruits Shaq Thompson (S), Ellis McCarthy (DT) and Seth Jacobs (LB) among several others.

If there is any year were the balancing act comes into play 2012 would be the perfect year. Regardless of the regular season record Washington needs to land at least three standout defensive recruits and at least two offensive line recruits (notably Garnett and Banner). If Washington can manage that then they will be in good shape moving forward. If not Holt and Sarkisian will take a step back, something neither can afford at this stage.

You can follow Lars on Twitter http://twitter.com/larshanson


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