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Washington’s Spring Preview a slam dunk for coordinator Jimmy Lake’s reloaded defense

UPDATED: Sat., April 27, 2019, 8:02 p.m.

Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake works with players at  spring practice  on March 28, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake works with players at spring practice on March 28, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Washington defense doesn’t miss many layups.

Oh, sorry. You must be confused. Yes, a defensive player can make a layup. And yes, this is a story about football, not basketball.

Isaiah Gilchrist can clarify. Late in Washington’s Spring Preview scrimmage, the junior defensive back – who also played safety and corner in April but was slotted at nickel on Saturday – jumped an out route from quarterback Jacob Sirmon, snatched the football and took off in the other direction. The Bellevue native sprinted untouched 40 yards into the end zone, where a mob of white jerseys and gold helmets met him in a makeshift mosh pit.

Because of UW’s complicated spring-game scoring system, this layup was technically worth 12 points instead of two.

“You see the ball and you just break,” said Gilchrist, who snagged two interceptions. “When you see green grass like that, you just need to make sure you catch the ball before you start running.

“Like (defensive coordinator Jimmy) Lake says, ‘Don’t miss a layup.’ It was awesome.”

The UW defense made a lot of layups. In a scrimmage in which the defense was rewarded for touchdowns (seven points), turnovers (five points), fourth-down stops (four points), missed field goals (four points), sacks (one point) and three-and-outs (one point), Lake’s crew walked away with a dominant 38-21 win. That performance included 11 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, six sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

On the other side, junior quarterback Jacob Eason threw his team’s only touchdown pass on the final play of the day, rolling out to his right and delivering a looping liner over Jackson Sirmon’s outstretched hands to running back Kamari Pleasant for a 17-yard score. Pleasant and junior Salvon Ahmed also added a touchdown run apiece.

But make no mistake, this was the defense’s day. Eason completed just 7 of 12 passes for 42 yards, while being sacked four times. Sophomore Jake Haener completed 9 of 16 passes for 61 yards with a sack and an interception. Washington’s five quarterbacks combined for 139 passing yards and the Huskies managed a measly 3.1 yards per carry.

It’s true, Byron Murphy, Taylor Rapp, Greg Gaines, Ben Burr-Kirven and Jordan Miller were all selected in the NFL draft this weekend.

But the UW defense is still Death Row, and it was dominant.

“Now it’s going to be, ‘Lock them back in the weight room. Get them faster, quicker, stronger and carry this energy over into training camp,’ ” Lake said. “We have to go watch the film, but obviously just from the naked eye, we were very pleased with our energy that we had out there and guys making plays.

“The defense was playing cohesive. We’ve just got to keep that edge, and keep it going as we get into training camp.”

When Lake said the defense was cohesive, the statistics support his claim. Eight Huskies broke up a pass. Linebackers M.J. Tafisi, Edefuan Ulofoshio and Josh Calvert tied with a team-high seven tackles.

But the Huskies’ outside linebackers may have been most impressive. Sophomore Ariel Ngata piled up four tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and several bone-crunching hits. Not to be outdone, fellow sophomore Joe Tryon added a pair of sacks as well.

“Those two names that you mentioned right there, from Day 1 to Day 15, are two guys that have really improved and have really shown up,” said Lake, whose Huskies managed just 24 sacks in 14 games last season. “Our two focuses here in spring were getting more pressure on the quarterback and getting more turnovers, which we didn’t do enough of last year. I think those two guys really provided a spark for us.”

Lake hopes that spark grows into an inferno in the fall. These Huskies, who have led the Pac-12 in scoring defense for four consecutive seasons, lack many of the names and numbers that fueled last year’s Rose Bowl run.

But Lake still expects them to make their layups. At least on Saturday, the basket kept getting bigger.

“We’re super confident,” said junior defensive back Elijah Molden, who made three tackles and broke up a pass. “The energy … everyone knows it’s there in the DB room. But it’s hard to put a word on it, really.

“It’s like when you look at each other you nod, because you understand what’s about to go down. Every practice is like that.”

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