Sept. 13, 2009
by Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - It turns out the promising offense the Huskies have manufactured might have some real teeth to it.
The evidence is certainly there. In two games this season, Washington has moved the ball with video game-like ease against opposing defenses, to the tune of 852 yards and 65 points combined.
Perhaps what has opened the most eyes around Montlake has been the offense's explosive nature and the way it consistently gashed Louisiana State and Idaho for plays of 20-plus yards. The success stems from an egalitarian, share-the-wealth approach, which works when the depth chart is loaded with athletic playmakers.
Of course, it also helps to have a quarterback like Jake Locker who can make it all work.
"It's fun to watch, that's for sure," said defensive tackle Cameron Elisara.
When Steve Sarkisian took over as coach at Washington, he scrapped the zone-read/spread-option style schemes and outfitted the 2009 group with playbooks containing his pro-style sets. This was the same system he orchestrated at USC, which was built on putting freakishly talented athletes into space and watching them pile up mountains of highlight tape.
Now Sarkisian is mirroring those same philosophies in Seattle, where he has the advantage of a hybrid run-throw QB in Locker to build around. The ability of Locker to make plays with his legs is one reason why UW has been so successful on third downs. In two games, the Huskies are 22-of-33 in converting third downs, a 66 percent rate. No math is needed, though, to figure out that sustained drives often lead to touchdowns.
"In this offense, everyone is alive," said tight end Kavario Middleton. "If you were to sit in with us in a meeting, Coach Sark will tell everyone that as long as you run your routes right, you'll be open. And if you're open, you'll get the rock. It's that easy."
But one of Sarkisian's best traits as an offensive mind is also his ability to toss a changeup with his schemes. Against a physical, fly-to-the-ball LSU defense, Sarkisian spread the field with receivers and found cracks. But red zone inefficiency and a pair of turnovers doomed the Huskies in the loss. Both of those areas looked improved against Idaho, as UW scored six touchdowns in a 42-23 win.
Locker distributed the ball effectively against the Vandals, completing passes to nine different receivers. No receiver had more than three receptions, but several made their share of explosive plays.
D'Andre Goodwin gained 35 yards when he snared a pass on the sideline in the first quarter after Locker twisted and spun away from multiple sacks. Freshman James Johnson caught a 31-yard touchdown on a skinny post. Running back Johri Fogerson took a dump-off pass out of the backfield and sprinted 24 yards for another score.
The coaching staff made a point to get WR Jermaine Kearse involved in the offense and he responded with three catches for 46 yards, including a crucial 34-yard snare where he out-fought his defender for the ball.
Sarkisian had two goals for Locker when he took over. He wanted the redshirt junior to complete 60 percent of his passes, and then avoid any reckless scrambling. So far, Locker is at exactly 60 percent (42-of-70) with his throws. He's still making plays on the run, but there's been a more concerted effort to stay in the pocket and look to find receivers first.
The success of the Huskies offense might be a surprise to outsiders, but those in the program felt the talent was there all along. When asked to put on his defensive coordinator's hat and devise a scheme to stall UW, Middleton laughed and shook his head.
"Honestly, I don't know how you would do that," he said.