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December 3, 2010It used to be that University of Washington football was synonymous with hard-nosed, bone-jarring defense.
When the Huskies trot into Martin Stadium for the 103rd Apple Cup Saturday, they'll bring along a defensive bunch that for at least two weeks has resembled some of the great units of the past.
Two weeks doesn't make a season, but if the Huskies' defense can string together another dominating performance against Washington State like it did against UCLA and Cal, the unit will be as responsible as any for saving Washington's season.
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt and other defensive assistants have been busy, devising a game plan against the third different offensive scheme the Huskies have faced in three weeks.
After going against UCLA's pistol formation and Cal's run-oriented multiple sets, Washington now must tackle WSU's wide-open spread passing offense engineered by quarterback Jeff Tuel.
"Every week there's different stuff you have to stop," Holt said. "It's a really good conference offensively, so you have to do a nice job with your preparation. Our kids have really been in tune and been motivated. They've done a nice job preparing throughout the game week and it's showing on Saturdays."
The improved play of the defensive front has been credited as a big factor behind the recent turnaround.
Semisi Tokolahi has replaced true freshman Sione Potoa'e at one starting defensive tackle spot the past two weeks to add more experience and bulk to the unit.
Holt said the front four of ends Everette Thompson and Hau'oli Jamora and tackles Alameda Ta'amu and Tokolahi have been a more stout group that's held its ground.
Another rising star has been junior cornerback Quentin Richardson, who not only has two interceptions the past two weeks but has been involved in other key pass breakups.
The Huskies' linebacking corp of Mason Foster, Cort Dennison and Victor Aiyewa have been consistently strong the entire season.
Foster is closing in on finishing as the Pac-10's leading tackler for the second time in three seasons.
Aiyewa leads the Pac-10 in tackles for losses while Dennison is ranked fifth in the conference in tackles.
"Definitely during the latter part of the season we started playing with a sense of urgency," Foster said. "We felt like we had to win every game we played to get to a bowl game."
Now they have to win one more and they'll get their wish.
But it's the Apple Cup. It's in Pullman. And the Cougars hold such a disregard for the Huskies that they don't event like to drink purple Gatorade.
"They hate us. We hate them," Huskies senior safety Nate Williams said. "That's always how it's been. I'm sure that's always how it will be. There's going to be a lot of trash talking and a lot of head banging out there this weekend."