Season Grades: Secondary

Desmond Trufant (US PRESSWIRE)

As it turned out with Washington's defense this year, the farther you moved from the line of scrimmage the better things got. And by the time you made it into the secondary, life was terrific if you were a Husky; compared to years' past the statistical jump made by the defensive backs was nothing short of miraculous.

When judging Justin Wilcox's first year at Washington's defensive coordinator, it's clear his biggest impact came at the group where he has the most experience. The former Oregon defensive back combined his efforts with safeties coach Keith Heyward and corners coach Donte Williams to create the most successful position group within the Huskies' football team.

The Good - Compared to all the other years under head coach Steve Sarkisian (and more specifically former defensive coordinator Nick Holt), the statistical change in 2012 for the secondary resembled that of a U-turn. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that 2012 was the first year where UW had more yards passing than their opponents - and quarterback Keith Price struggled mightily this past season compared to 2011 - to the tune of roughly 800 yards less. That's significant.

In 2011 the Huskies were 119th in total passing yards allowed and tied for 76th in interceptions; in 2012 they jumped to 16th in total passing yards allowed and tied for 15th in interceptions. That's a ridiculous jump in form. The secondary was 16th in pass efficiency defense this season, good enough for second in the Pac-12 just ahead of Oregon State and Oregon. Ten of the teams ranked ahead of UW in that category had double-digit wins on the season.

To underscore the significance of those changes, Washington's secondary did all that this year with a defensive line that had less sacks than they had in 2011 - 26. That number was better than only Colorado and Arizona in the Pac-12, as well as tied for 53rd nationally.

Here's some more statistics to chew on when looking at this year's secondary compared to the other three years under Sarkisian (Holt):

Completion percentage (UW versus OPP):
2012 - 61.6% versus 53.5%
2011 - 65.8% versus 62.8%
2010 - 54.5% versus 60.2%
2009 - 58.3% versus 62.8%

Average per pass (UW versus OPP):
2012 - 6.3 versus 6.4
2011 - 8.2 versus 7.6
2010 - 6.6 versus 7.0
2009 - 7.2 versus 8.0

Touchdowns as a percentage of attempts:
2012 - 14/355 = 3.94%
2011 - 22/486 = 4.53%
2010 - 15/359 = 4.18%
2009 - 16/363 = 4.41%

2012 - 17 interceptions, 39 breakups, 56 passes defensed
2011 - 10 interceptions, 50 breakups, 60 passes defensed
2010 - 12 interceptions, 39 breakups, 51 passes defensed
2009 - 8 interceptions, 28 breakups, 36 passes defensed

It's the last set of statistics that may look misleading at first glance, but upon inspection you'll find that the Husky secondary broke up 11 percent and defensed 15.8 percent of passes thrown last year compared to only 10.7 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively in 2011 - despite having more breakups and passes defensed.

The biggest reason for the turnaround was Desmond Trufant. The senior from Tacoma finally put together a season where he truly became a shut-down corner. Shadowing Marqise Lee all game long, he put the clamps down on Lee - the first team All-America receiver that also won the Biletnikoff and Warfield Awards after catching 112 passes for 1680 yards - limiting him to two catches for 32 yards. That's the same Marqise Lee that caught 16 passes for 345 yards at Arizona and had 12 catches for 192 yards at Utah. Simply put, Trufant's play cut the secondary's responsibilities at least by a third and in some cases by 50 percent - his reputation instilled that much fear.

No one really tried to throw at Trufant if you look at the statistics. In 2012 Trufant had 1 interception, 8 breakups and 9 passes defensed. So how did he earn first team All-Pac-12 honors? Because he affected the game to the point where quarterbacks looked to the other side of the field. His 2011 statistics - 2 interceptions, 14 breakups and 16 passes defensed - show the numbers of a player who was really counted on, but also one that was getting picked on too. Quarterbacks weren't looking away from him; quite the opposite. But Tru's play in 2012 was transcendent, and the numbers prove that.

When you combine the efforts of corners like Trufant, Marcus Peters, Greg Ducre and Tre Watson with the punishing play of the safeties, it's not surprising the results. The safeties - Sean Parker, Justin Glenn and Will Shamburger - imposed themselves in the middle of the deep third and the corners simply had to clean up. The hit/interception on Markus Wheaton by Parker and Glenn was arguably the defensive highlight of the year and really proved to be the epitome of the secondary's ability to create 'sudden change' plays, leading the defense to 32 total turnovers for the offense.

The Bad - Even the bad shows some silver linings. One of the real culprits defensively was penalties, especially the 15-yard variety. Doing a scan of the defensive penalties this year, the secondary accounted for 13 penalties for 190 yards - all of them minus one were 15-yard penalties; either personal fouls or pass interference calls. But if you take a couple series of the Oregon game and the fourth quarter of the WSU game out of the equation, you come up with six penalties spread out over 10 games for 85 yards. That's actually very good. Most all the 15-yard personal foul calls were against defensive linemen. So even when trying to pin-point defensive flaws they never pointed at the secondary. They did their jobs well, and for the large majority of the year they did their jobs without hurting their team.

The Grade: A. I think this is an easy grade to give. Over the course of the year you can obviously find some pockets of inconsistency or poor individual reads that led to some big plays, but overall when you're talking about a top-15 pass defense nationally saddled with a below average pass rush, it's easy to direct the praise straight at the corners and safeties. It's a no-brainer. Add in their ability to create turnovers via interception and also their ability to get off the field on third down via the pass (they are the first defense under Sarkisian to keep opponents to less than 40 percent on third down conversions and were 7/21 defending fourth downs as well!), and the defensive backs look even better and better. The only First Team All-Pac-12 player from Washington was corner Desmond Trufant, indicative of his lock-down play all year long. Sean Parker has a First Team All-Pac-12 future in front of him, as does Marcus Peters. When you add in redshirt freshmen like Brandon Beaver and Cleveland Wallace, as well as players like Alabama transfer Travell Dixon, the future continues to look bright for the UW secondary.

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