Season Grades: Defensive Line

Josh Shirley (US PRESSWIRE)

It's Monday, so that means we start up the season grades for the other side of the ball, the defense. Let's begin with the defensive line, a group that seemed to have some promise at the start of the year with starters returning like Danny Shelton, Semisi Tokolahi, Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson. And while the defense as a whole improved by leaps and bounds, the DL had a tough time keeping up.

The Good - The interior of the defensive line was very good for the most part, even with injuries taking their toll at times. Danny Shelton was a War Daddy in every sense of the term in 2012 for the way he gutted out performances, often by himself getting double-teamed to allow for others to take advantage of one-on-one situations. Having Semisi Tokolahi there to help out was a true godsend, as was Josh Banks - who I'm sure would have liked to play more if it weren't for being banged up. And Andrew Hudson was rock solid anywhere across the defensive line he was asked to play. Sometimes he had to line up across from the center in obvious pass situations and did his job admirably, tying Josh Shirley for most sacks with 6.5, up from 3.5 last year.

The Bad - Washington had a chance to be a very deep defensive line in 2012, bringing in some newcomers in Banks and true freshman Pio Vatuvei to supplement an already talented group. But slowly the group's numbers began to dwindle. In fall camp it was Hauoli Jamora that suffered another knee injury, knocking out arguably UW's biggest rush threat from the bigger HUSKY defensive end spot. After the non-conference schedule, Lawrence Lagafuaina hurt his knee - an injury that would cost him the rest of the 2011 season. Then players like Talia Crichton, Banks and Vatuvei started missing games due to injuries, forcing the Huskies to look in other directions - like walk-on Drew Schultz and Shane Brostek, a converted offensive lineman. And Shirley never really acclimated to his role as a true pass rusher, ironically enough. This is a player that had the term RUSH named after him on the official UW depth chart, but Wilcox didn't want to use him in a lot of run and cover situations - often deferring to true freshman Cory Littleton to handle those down-and-distance situations.

The Ugly - Speaking of Shirley, the numbers don't lie; the defensive line had a lot of problems, both in terms of stopping the run and getting after the quarterback. There were four teams in the Pac-12 that were worse at stopping the run than the Huskies: California, Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado - so that barely puts them on the line between the second and bottom third of the league when it comes to getting after running backs. Other than Stanford, they held one other FBS team under 100 yards rushing - Colorado - and that's it. It's almost inconceivable to think it, but while the pass defense totals are a massive improvement from 2011 to 2012 - more than 100 yards a game better - the rush defense barely improved in 2012. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that teams could really throw it for yardage against Nick Holt's defense, but the stats are still there for all to see. They say the Huskies gave up 169 yards per game on the ground in 2011 compared to 164 this year. Before the Apple Cup UW was surrendering nearly 178 yards per game on the ground. That's crazy.

And with regard to the pass rush, Shirley definitely regressed from 2011 - where he had 8.5 sacks. He had a chance to go even bigger in 2012 with a year of work under his belt but he only had multiple sacks in one game - Colorado - and that was against the worst offensive line the Huskies saw all year. For whatever reason - the change in philosophy, the fact that he wasn't an every down player anymore…it took a toll on his effectiveness. And that lack of production rushing the quarterback spread to the entire defensive line; they accounted for only 25 sacks in 12 games - barely two a game. Only Colorado and Arizona had lower numbers in the Pac-12. And on top of that when you take Shirley and Hudson's numbers out of the total sack equation for the DL, the rest of the group had two sacks between them all season. That's the definition of ugly.

Grade: D+. It may seem a tad harsh considering Washington just finished their regular season with the 30th best defense in college football, but you can't ignore the numbers. They were 67th in rush defense, 92nd in tackles for loss and 53rd in sacks (10 of their 25 sacks came from linebackers and defensive backs). It's an eleven-man game on defense like it is in every other phase of football, but when you talk about run defense and tackles for loss - including sacks - those are all stats that are directly impacted by the play up front. The defensive line was just as porous as last year when it came to the run game and extremely hit-and-miss when it came to providing a consistent pass rush. It just wasn't there. Part of that was clearly due to injury, some of it also due to how Wilcox decided to use players like Shirley. But at the end of the day it really felt like the defense triumphed in spite of an extremely lackluster defensive line, not because of it. The linebackers and secondary had to be more aggressive in their run fits and had to stay on receivers and backs longer in coverage. It's actually scary what might have gotten accomplished with simply an average defensive line; as it was the rest of the defense was hamstrung by average defensive ends and a serious lack of consistent tackle play outside of Shelton and Tokolahi.

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