I know the title is quite a mouthful, but I couldn’t think of a slicker way to headline this post, which is meant to take a look at how Washington’s new-found offensive line depth could make the change to more of a no-huddle, speed oriented offense much more effective.
It’s easy to hear that the Huskies are trying to speed up the offense and dismiss it as lip service, the kind of thing coaches and sportswriters throw around in the doldrums of the off-season, but not something that represents a fundamental change to the way a team operates. When I first heard the “up-tempo” buzzword being thrown around, I had that very reaction. It was interesting, but I figured it was a natural coach-speak reaction to what was clearly an ugly, indecisive offensive year for Keith Price and his team.
But as spring practices continued, it became clearer and clearer that this is a serious shift in offensive strategy in the works. As mentioned in this post on the change from GoHuskies.com, Washington regularly ran well over 100 plays each practice, often going with a full no-huddle. And while it may not have been apparent in the Spring “Game” (scrimmage/practice), which featured entirely vanilla everything in order to guard scheme secrets from prying eyes, this new approach to the offensive side of the ball appears to be here to stay. Barring a major change, it should be very apparent to Husky fans in the August 31 opener against Boise State.
In the meantime, practicing in the no-huddle also gives the defense a chance to work against the kind of attack they’ll face regularly in the high-octane Pac-12. An above average defensive team in 2012, the Huskies nevertheless did their best work against simpler, pro style teams like Stanford and USC and struggled against Oregon-type no-huddle spreads.
I think the change in offensive approach also has a chance to help out Keith Price, though I will not claim to be confident in any projections involving Price, who went from break-out sensation in 2011 to mediocre at best in 2012. The addition of quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo, three different four-star wide receivers from the Class of 2013 added on to the return of Kasen Williams and ASJ, and a healthy offensive line all point to some sort of improvement for Price. But for a guy that seemed to struggle so badly making his reads and making the right throw, this change seems like it can’t hurt.
Coming quickly out of a no-huddle, Price will have an edge on the defense. He will, in theory, be able to more easily establish a rhythm moving from play to play so quickly. Even if this isn’t the case, making the defense try to figure things out so quickly while the offense knows exactly what it’s doing certainly can’t hurt.
So what does the offensive line have to do with this change? Well, to put it simply, this year they make it possible. Or at least feasible.
Last season, as you probably heard many times, the Huskies entered week one with an offensive line ravaged by injury. In fact, at a certain point senior center Drew Schaefer was seriously the only starter on the line with any career starts. Having to throw that many young guys into the fire at the same time was not a recipe for success, and Price paid for it, both physically and mentally. Though he certainly didn’t enjoy top-notch pass protection previously in 2011, he seemed to lack any confidence in this ragtag line, and though it probably doesn’t explain all of his struggles, it was certainly one large element.
But all those guys, Ben Riva, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, Micah Hatchie, Shane Brostek, that struggled playing too much too early are now one year older, and they’re now reaping the benefits of that uncommonly early playing experience while they work through a complete off season. And they’re all reasonably healthy! Meanwhile, many of the guys that would have started last year if they hadn’t been knocked out for the season are returning to health as well. Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa in particular should be ready to go by the fall.
So while the young guns have received the benefit of a whole healthy spring together working as starters, they will be reinforced in the fall by the presence of several even more experienced veterans. Maybe the actual starting five will be interspersed with a few of both categories. Either way, with Coach Sark serious about running a fast paced offense, this depth will not only be helpful, it will be necessary.
You can’t sprint your offense up and down the field without huddling between plays if you’re rolling out a starting offensive line that needs to play the vast majority of the snaps. The guys are 300+ pounds. Even well conditioned offensive linemen completely adjusted to that style of play need solid players behind them on the depth chart to rotate in and keep everyone fresh. Look at Oregon’s O-line. They aren’t playing 5 or 6 guys. They’re playing 8 or 9 or 10.
Sark has already said out loud that this is his intention. That it really isn’t too important who is listed at the top of the depth chart, because a ton of big bodies will find their way onto the field. That couldn’t have been the case last season, not without walk-ons and unprepared true freshmen coming in to relieve a bunch of first time starters.
But now Sark has his depth, he has a full off season to implement his changes. Add on to that a redshirt senior quarterback who enjoyed a very good spring running the no-huddle, a 1400+ yard rusher in Bishop Sankey, what should be much-improved depth at wide receiver, and a quality defense returning a majority of starters, and the results come next season could be exactly what the fans have been waiting for since the day Coach Sarkisian took over.