Fire Nick Holt? Examining Washington's Struggles On Defense

Fans are getting into the habit of calling for the firing of Husky defensive coordinator Nick Holt after poor showings by Washington's defense. Is this criticism fair? Here's an analysis on the team's defensive struggles this season.

The Washington Huskies defense is bad. Stanford's 65 points on Saturday was the most points given up by the Huskies' defense since a 65-7 loss to Miami all the way back in 2001. After riding the high of the team's victory against Colorado last week, many fans expected at least a close game against Stanford. Instead, the team failed to stay within striking distance and the Cardinal were up by four possessions at the end of the first half.

On Saturday, it wasn't the pass defense getting torched, instead, we saw the defensive line get absolutely no pressure on the quarterback and the Husky linebackers also had a poor showing. This Husky defense is not at the point where head coach Steve Sarkisian can consistently depend on its ability to get stops on third downs. Until the defense is able to do this, the team will not be at the same level of play as the Oregons and Stanfords of the Pac-12 conference.

Yes, Stanford has arguably the best offensive line in America. And yes, the Huskies did face the best quarterback prospect ever to play college football. But Saturday's performance was pitiful. San Jose St., Duke, Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Washington St. all lost to Stanford this season, but none of them gave up as many yards and as many points as Washington did.

Stanford is what the Huskies hope to be within the next couple of years, but for now, their defense will have to develop and improve for that to happen. With that said, all aspects of this defense must be examined including the man running it: defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

After every poor defensive performance fans have pointed their finger directly at Holt. While it is difficult to assess how much he is at fault for the defense's poor showings, he must share some of the blame.

The talent on the defense is below average. Cornerback Desmond Trufant has had his moments this season, defensive lineman Alameda Ta'amu is still an NFL prospect and linebacker Cort Dennison has played up to expectations so far this season. However, other than these three, there are really no other impact players on the defense.

Still, the talent on this defense isn't the worst collection of talent in the Pac-12. Yet they are playing like it. The team is allowing 431 yards per game, good for 101st in the nation; 4.43 tackles per loss per game, good for 107th in the nation; and 33.71 points per game, good for 104th in the nation.

There could be several reasons why the defense is struggling. The players could simply just be not following their assignments. Holt could be employing bad schemes. Coaches could be at fault for failing to teach the right technique and not developing the players right. If you want to get deeper into the issue, you could look at the failure to recruit high quality defensive players. 

While it may be an overreaction to call for Holt's job, the reasoning and the criticism behind those calling for his firing is not completely out of line. There are things he could be doing better. We all know that, he knows that and Sarkisian knows that.

65 points don't happen unless your defense gives up. And I think Washington's defense did give up on Saturday. Holt should be directly held accountable for his unit's lack of motivation. If some players are giving up, other players should play in their place. 

"And then you get behind and you can't get them out of that personnel and they keep pounding you and pounding you and we are not there yet physically in our program with our guys with just staying toe-to-toe consistently," said Holt (Via: Seattle Times)

After the loss, Holt did not take any of the blame for his defense's performance. It probably is true that his defense can't matchup physically against Stanford yet. But that is not the only reason why the defense sucked so bad. Some of the fault has to lie squarely on Holt's shoulders. For him to not admit any blame is concerning.

For now, I'm too unsure and not ready to call for the firing of Nick Holt. I don't know if he's the main reason this defense is struggling. For all we know, this defense could end up turning it around and becoming one of the best units in the Pac-12 by the end of the season.

All we can ask for is improvement from this young squad. I'd also like to see Holt take some of the blame when his defense struggles because ultimately, he's part of the defense too, putting it on his players isn't fair to them.

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