By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ lack of oxygen told him how far the offense had advanced.
The star tight end missed roughly a week of practice after breaking his pinkie Aug. 12 in practice. When he returned and began working with the No. 1 offense again, he found out the fast-pace offense as he knew it was redefined.
“First day I really couldn’t hang with it,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “When I got back from my injury, I was like, whoa, the speed has increased three or four times from when I left.”
And yet, from quarterback to coach, the Huskies claim they can go faster.
After experimenting in the spring with an up-tempo offense, one that has befuddled its defense in recent years, Washington went ahead with its full implementation in the fall.
The first game went about as well as they could have hoped. After stagnating last season, the offense, even without a suspended Seferian-Jenkins, appeared to receive a jolt. It gained 592 yards, tying for the 10th-most in school history.
Washington ran 85 plays against Boise State, well above its average of 69.5 from last season.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian has pointed to several reasons why he thought this was the year to implement the up-tempo offense. The main reason is personnel. He had thought about it in the past, even discussing some of the finer points with Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin in 2011, when Sumlin was the head coach at Houston. Sumlin’s Aggies were the only team to beat national champion Alabama last season.
Communication is paramount and one of the things that went well in the first game. The offensive calls have been truncated. Quarterback Keith Price no longer wears a two-paged wrist band full of plays. Sarkisian, for the most part, was satisfied with the offensive substitutions.
He has three points of emphasis in order to make Washington go even faster on offense:
n Do a better job of handing the ball directly to the umpire as opposed to a side judge. That will allow the ball to be placed sooner and the Huskies to snap the ball faster, preferably within eight seconds of the play clock starting.
n Get the offensive line set faster.
n Third, substituting with a “sense of urgency.” Sarkisian wants players sprinting on and off the field.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is considered a pioneer of the no-huddle, shotgun spread approach to offense. The Wildcats flew past Washington last year, winning 52-17.
Rodriguez has put the system in place at multiple stops during his coaching career, including Tulane and Clemson, where he was offensive coordinator, and later as head coach at West Virginia.
“It’s new for the guys, not just for your offense, but for your defense, your managers, your trainers, everybody has to be in tune with that,” Rodriguez said. “(My) staff obviously has been together for a long time so it’s easy for them, but sometimes we forget it’s not normal. At least it wasn’t normal for most kids to go fast.
“You grow up in Pop Warner and high school huddling up and taking their time, when you’re going at a completely different tempo than they’re used to, it takes a while to get used to that.”
Sarkisian said he’s seen more high schools install up-tempo systems. For most, it’s still an adjustment.
That’s the case at Oregon which may be the fastest-moving team in college football. Loaded with speed at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, the second-ranked Ducks scored 21 points in the first 10:32 last Saturday against Virginia.
“Our (young) skill guys that are learning how to play without the ball or they finish a play downfield in high school and they’re adjusting their helmet, adjusting their facemask or adjusting their gloves, they need to run back to the line of scrimmage and get set, see a signal,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. “We teach that just like we teach blocking and tackling. For us, that’s a fundamental.”
Oregon can become so efficient and fast, it often overwhelms opponents. Helfrich said they don’t determine if the offense is going fast enough based on the time of a snap. The Ducks just know when warp speed is achieved.
“I think when you’re in rhythm and everybody is playing with confidence or playing fast, you kind of just feel it,” Helfrich said.
That’s the pace the Huskies want to get to. Their next chance comes Saturday in Chicago.