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Published: Thursday, October 28, 2010, 9:16 p.m.

Dawgs have plenty of new tricks

Washington has designed plays to take advantage of Callier’s skills

  • Washington has added the fly sweep, Wildcat formation and Pistol formation to take advantage of the talents of freshman running back Jesse Callier (24...

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Washington has added the fly sweep, Wildcat formation and Pistol formation to take advantage of the talents of freshman running back Jesse Callier (24).

SEATTLE — At its core, college football is less about innovation than it is about imitation.
And so rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, the offensive coaches at the University of Washington have spent a good part of this season picking out cars from other lots.
The Huskies have featured a fly sweep that’s popular in high school and Pop Warner fields — as well as at Oregon State — they’ve added an abundance of plays out of the Wildcat formation that Auburn made famous, and they have debuted a Pistol formation like the one Nevada has used to baffle opponents all season. And that’s just in the last month.
“You’re always watching and learning,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said this week. “Change is inevitable. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. And we’re just trying to get better.”
While the Huskies’ offense is still trying to find the consistency it needs to be truly dominant this season, it’s not for a lack of trying.
Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have been proactive in terms of renovating the UW offense.
“You’re always looking to create a competitive advantage for yourself,” Nussmeier said. “Every week when we go in against an opponent, we self-scout ourselves. What are we doing? What are we seeing on film? How are people trying to defend us? And then how do we think we can attack them?”
In Year 2 of their era as UW coaches, Sarkisian and Nussmeier have felt more comfortable about adding to the playbook without losing the players’ concentration.
And yet, on a team that returned 10 of its top 11 players in terms of total offense from last year’s squad, it was a true freshman who dictated many of the playbook additions.
Running back Jesse Callier, who had virtually no chance of beating out Chris Polk for the starting job, was so impressive early in the season that the Huskies began finding creative ways to get him on the field. In the week leading up to the Oct. 3 game at USC, the coaches put in a fly sweep, which lined up Callier at a wide receiver position, put him in motion, and often resulted in an option handoff out of shotgun formation.
The play resulted in 19 yards on Callier’s first three carries, leading to more fly sweeps over the ensuing weeks. The coaches even added a wrinkle in the Arizona State game when Callier tried to throw a pass out of the formation.
“Timing is the concerning part of it,” Sarkisian said of the fly sweep. “If you’re off half a second, you’re hitting a guy on the hip, or you’re missing him and the ball could get on the ground.
“Knock on wood, we’ve been great at it this year, and that’s a tribute to our quarterbacks and the rhythm of the motion.”
Callier’s success running the fly sweep led the coaches to continue analyzing how they could involve him in the offense. They remembered Callier played some quarterback as a junior in high school, and took snaps out of the Wildcat formation as a senior.
The Huskies debuted their own Wildcat against Arizona last Saturday, with Callier taking direct snaps from the center about half a dozen times. He was also part of a Pistol formation that involves the quarterback lining up in mini-shotgun formation, with a running back behind him.
When the coaches unveil a new play for Callier, the freshman running back said: “It gives me chills. It’s exciting. It’s fun.”
Sarkisian said the renovated offense has as much to do with Callier and some of the other players as it does anything else.
“We’re just trying to get this offense to fit the personnel and the personality of our team, and to allow our players to do the things that they do well,” he said. “Some of the things that we’ve done are what the guys did well when they were in high school — most notably Jesse.”
When Nussmeier was asked what the Huskies had in store next for their unpredictable offense, he unleashed a big grin.
“You have to come Saturday night,” he said with a laugh.
Of note
Quarterback Jake Locker (thigh, ribs) practiced Thursday and is expected to start Saturday against Stanford. “This has been his best week of practice in almost a month,” Sarkisian told reporters after Thursday’s practice. “... I expect him to go out and play a really passionate football game.” ... The only player who has been ruled out for the game is defensive end Cameron Elisara (neck stinger). Tight end Chris Izbicki (foot), safety Will Shamburger (concussion) and running back Johri Fogerson (hip) appear unlikely to play against the Cardinal. ... Thursday’s practice was held inside the Dempsey Center because of rain.
Story tags » Huskies Football

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