Huskies using up-tempo offense this season
One of the more noticeable changes this fall is quarterback Keith Price's screaming.
"Let's go! Let's go!"
Hustling practice referees run up the sideline to spot the ball while Price is lording a few feet behind center with his message just barked out. Signs flash on the sideline. Price uses a quarter shoulder turn to take a peek at the call, then the snap is off in a snap.
Washington's move to a full-time up-tempo offense this season is a result of personnel and philosophy change. The hope is that the rapid snapping of the ball helps vault the Huskies past their repetitive 7-6 records.
UW head coach Steve Sarkisian was taught offense by mentors who had links to "Air Coryell," the offensive style named after passing-game innovations brought to football by former Washington defensive back Don Coryell. Sarkisian's junior-college coach, John Featherstone, was on staff with Coryell at San Diego State after playing for him in the late 1960s, and installed the single back, play-action approach for Sarkisian to run as quarterback at El Camino College in the early 1990s.
When Sarkisian left El Camino for BYU, LaVell Edwards ran a similar spread system. It's an approach Sarkisian knew and was hardened into by the time he arrived at Washington in 2009.
He adapted some of the style that year because of the size and speed speed and size of quarterback Jake Locker. Sarkisian didn't have a tight end the following season, which made him turn to other adjustments. In 2011, when quarterback Keith Price excelled, the Huskies used most of those pro-style spread techniques to help with a wide distribution of passes.
Last season, Washington dabbled in an up-tempo approach. Against Stanford and its stout defense, the Huskies tinkered with the pace of the game by using a faster offensive approach. They went on to use it in other spots throughout the season, often seeing an effective result in a down offensive season.
This year, it's a full shift for the Huskies into the football's latest trend. The majority of the Pacific-12 Confrence uses the manic approach. Texas A&M used it to upset Alabama last season, when the Aggies were one of just two teams to score more than 20 points against the national champions.
"If you look at us when we struggled last year, we were trying to match up," offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto said. "When we started going fast pace, we eliminated the thinking, the guessing; then you just go.
"There's no what-ifs sitting in your stances, you just load it up. When that snap's over you just go to the next snap. You have to learn how to play one at a time because you can't waste time worrying about what you did the last time.
"I think it helped Keith, too."
"I think it was effective for us in minimizing the paralysis by analysis aspect of it for the quarterback," Sarkisian said. "I think that it allowed him to just go play the game in a setting he's comfortable in, which is where he's a more spontaneous, reactive-type player and not over analytical."
The Huskies previously used constant motion for deception. This season's offense will look to the pace to force defensive misalignment and confusion. Price said he's all for it and that the core formations Washington uses are similar to the past.
"It's a little different, but it's the same pro-style concepts," Price said. "It's just at a faster pace. It doesn't really change anything for me. I still have to make the right reads and the right decisions."
A more cynical view of the shift would prompt the cliche, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Washington has been pulverized by up-tempo spread teams of late, most notably Oregon. The Ducks have beaten the Huskies nine consecutive seasons and have been a national player since Chip Kelly infused the up-tempo approach in 2008.
Arizona and Oregon each scored 52 points on the helpless Huskies last year using the no-huddle spread offense. Even stodgy LSU has mixed in the no-huddle.
However, having the offense flip to a warp-speed approach is a mixed bag for the defense.
The upside is daily work against one of their greatest weaknesses. Yet, when the games start, heavy rotations will be needed. Yardage allowed inevitably will go up because of the increase in snaps. The pressure on the defense will be increased by its own offense.
"You have to be ready to substitute," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "I'd love to sit here and say (nose tackle) Danny Shelton is going to play 84 snaps of his best football. I think that's a lot to ask for a guy who weighs (327) pounds.
"I think if you're only playing with 11 in this day and age, as much as you might like to, it's counter-productive."
The coaches had to make changes. Summer-long conditioning programs for offensive and defensive linemen were altered. Aspects of practice were redesigned. For instance, Washington now stops in the middle for a walk-through; a built-in breather.
The difference between week one of camp and four days before the opener is being noticed.
"It's much easier," middle linebacker John Timu said. "We're able to think. Breathe a little bit. We're ready for it."
Saturday, when 19th-ranked Boise State becomes the first menace to enter revamped Husky Stadium, it will find out if that's true. The Broncos like to use no-huddle spread looks themselves.
"There's a reason why everybody is doing this," Wilcox said. "People aren't dumb."
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