JAYNE: Defense can add grit to Pac-12

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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Steve Sarkisian better be careful. Any more quips like that and he'll get himself kicked out of the club.

You saw it, right? You saw what the Washington coach said Thursday night after the Huskies' 17-13 victory over eighth-ranked Stanford, didn't you?

The Dawgs spent 60 minutes gnawing on the Stanford offense, after which Sarkisian had the temerity to say: "Part of me thinks that our fans probably appreciate these types of games more than 48-45. There is something gritty about our mentality there, and this was a black-and-blue type of game. I think our fans appreciated that."

Sarkisian, apparently, thinks that he's coaching in the SEC. Little does he realize, apparently, that this is the Pac-12, where the grass grows green and the offenses roam free.

This is the conference that over the years has seen the birth of the T-formation and the birth of the West Coast offense and the perfection of the spread-option attack. It has been the proving ground for no less than four quarterbacks who were No. 1 overall NFL picks in the past 14 years. It has been the home to passers who won Heisman Trophies and Super Bowl MVPs and Pro Football Hall of Fame honors.

Why, in the Pac-12, a 31-28 nail-biter is considered a defensive struggle, and it has been that way since, oh, the dawn of time or shortly thereafter.

Which is why the pundits have placed so much importance on Washington's victory. The Huskies not only beat a highly ranked team, they redefined the nature of their program, it seems — unless you recall that 41-3 thrashing three weeks earlier at Louisiana State.

It would be a mistake to read too much into Washington's victory. The Huskies shut down an offense guided by a quarterback making his first road start who couldn't have hit Lake Washington with a pass. On second thought, he might have hit Lake Washington with a few of those.

And yet, Sarkisian might be on to something. He might be right about the fans appreciating such a performance, and that's because the fans understand the importance of adding some grit to the Pac-12.

The fans understand that it's not a coincidence the SEC had eight defensive players selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and has just happened to win the past six national titles. The fans understand that the rest of the country languishes behind the Alabamas of the world (if not the Georgias and Tennessees, considering Saturday's outcome) when it comes to soul-crushing defense.

Coaches understand that, too. It's not as if Pac-12 coaches don't know or care about defense. It's just that the history of the conference and the carefree lifestyle generated by mild weather and beautiful landscapes lends itself to a different mindset.

There are reasons why no West Coast team since the 1991 Huskies has demonstrated the kind of steal-your-lunch-money defense that is currently the norm among the elite SEC teams, and they all go back to the offensive-minded mentality of football in this part of the country.

In the Pac-12, the best athletes tend to wind up on offense.

In the South, they play defense.

One victory by Washington over Stanford isn't going to change that, and the excitement might appear misguided after the Huskies face Oregon next week. But, as Sarkisian pointed out, at the least it's a step in the right direction.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. Follow him on Twitter: @col_gjayne