When Justin Wilcox came to Washington from Tennessee, the Huskies were severely in need of a quick turn around on defense, coming off easily one of the worst defensive performances in bowl history, a 67-56 loss to Baylor in which UW gave up 777 total yards. Wilcox has not only vastly improved the Huskies, he’s turned the 106th defense in the country a year ago into a squad ranked 40th despite two blowouts to teams ranked No. 2; LSU and Oregon.
Wilcox has brought a 4-3 base defense that almost presents itself as a 3-4 hybrid nickel package, given the presence of freshman phenom Shaq Thompson playing the nickel and Josh Shirley at the hybrid rush end spot. Thompson, the nation’s top safety in the Class of 2012, stole headlines back in the recruiting season when he flipped from Cal to UW, following Tosh Lupoi from Berkeley to Seattle. He’s started all five games with the Huskies and is tied with middle linebacker John Timu for third on the team with 28 tackles. The hype is real.
Joining Thompson in the secondary is possibly the nation’s most underrated defensive player, strong safety Sean Parker. The junior from Harbor City’s Narbonne High is the anchor of the defense, second on the team in tackles and first in hit sticks. Parker’s physicality is on par with T.J. McDonald, while his cerebral game looks a lot like a Kevin Ellison, as he’s able to play strong safety from all over the field without being a liability to UW’s pass defense.
Add in corner Desmond Trufant to the mix and the Huskies have arguably the best secondary in the conference and the most formidable that Matt Barkley will have to face so far in 2012.
Up front, Washington is not exactly as stout as they’d like. They’ve generated just three sacks since Week 1, and they’re 11th in the Pac-12 against the run. A big part of that is due to a lack of experience, as five of the starting front seven are underclassmen, but that doesn’t explain the lack of production from Josh Shirley.
Shirley plays the rush end in Wilcox’s 4-3 under defense, meaning he plays a role that’s awfully similar to Clay Matthews’ hybrid end/linebacker role at USC back in 2008. Despite recording a team-high 8.5 sacks a year ago, Shirley has just one to date this year, which has forced Wilcox to spell him with true freshman linebacker Cory Litteton. Shirley is slated to start at the hybrid on Saturday, and if the Trojans are to get a scare from the Dawgs, it’ll have to be due to a strong front seven performance from Washington.
With rain and a strong secondary against them, the Trojans could be forced to run a lot on Saturday, so it’ll be interesting to see how the front seven responds, and if Shirley can get going for the Huskies.
DE Talia Crichton #11
NT Danny Shelton #71
DE Andrew Hudson #93
R Josh Shirley #22
LB Travis Feeney #41
LB John Timu #10
LB Princeton Fuimaino #37
NI Shaq Thompson #7
S Will Shamburger #13 or Justin Glenn #20
S Sean Parker #1
CB Desmond Trufant #6
CB Tre Watson #32 or Marcus Peters #21