Justin Wilcox pulled off one of the best coaching jobs in the country last season when he inherited a woeful Washington Huskies defense and turned it into a very good unit in just one year. There is still work to do, however, after Washington limped to a 7-5 finish in 2012 and remained stuck in the second tier of the Pac 12 standings. For the Huskies to break through in 2013, Wilcox will have to get better consistency out of his defense.
The job that Wilcox did last year can’t be overstated, however. In 2011 under Nick Holt, Washington gave up 100 more yards and 12 more points per game than they did in 2012 with Wilcox. The team went from being ranked No. 106 in total defense and No. 108 in scoring defense in 2011 to No. 31 and No. 39 just a year later. Wilcox turned one of the worst defenses in the country into a top 40 defense with a roster that was arguably less talented and definitely less experienced.
There were definite low-points for the Huskies, however, during their defensive turnaround. They were physically man-handled in their road trip to the Bayou when the LSU Tigers pushed them around en route to a 41-3 blowout victory. The Dawgs also fell flat when they came up against up-tempo, spread offenses like the Oregon Ducks, who beat Washington 52-21, and the Arizona Wildcats, who won 52-17.
The worst part, or at least the part that has been stuck in the Huskies’ minds all offseason, was the way they finished, or failed to finish, in their final two games. In the Apple Cup against the rival Washington State Cougars, UW blew an 18-point fourth-quarter lead on their way to losing in overtime. Then in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl against the Boise State Broncos, Washington let a late lead and a 200-yard rushing performance by Bishop Sankey go to waste in a 28-26 loss.
To avoid similar dips in 2013, Wilcox is calling on his young players to step up and finish games. Cornerback Marcus Peters, who had some struggles during his redshirt freshman season starting opposite Desmond Trufant, will be put in the spotlight with Trufant moving on to the NFL. Wilcox says the young corner “has flashed” the ability to be a shutdown cover-guy, but needs to step up and become more consistent if he hopes to step into the massive shoes left behind by a likely first round draft pick.
Wilcox would also like to see more out of his pass rush and junior end Josh Shirley. Sacks were the one statistic that was worse in 2012 than in 2011, but Shirley showed a good ability to get to the quarterback, finishing the year with 6.5 sacks. He also tied for the conference lead with six forced fumbles, though Washington fans were looking for more. Wilcox believes that Shirley could have gotten double-digit sacks if he had finished plays better last season, and will be leaning on him to do just that next fall.
While Wilcox has worked wonders so far with the Washington defense, he knows he still has plenty of work to do. Improving in year two as the defensive coordinator will play a key role in just how far Washington goes in 2013.
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