This game – Saturday at 1 p.m. at Husky Stadium against second-ranked Oregon – is why the No. 16 Huskies changed to a no-huddle offense this past spring. The switch has the defense as prepared as it’s been in years for the Ducks.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Minutes after the Huskies got off the practice field Tuesday morning, lightning struck near Husky Stadium. Accompanying thunder claps bounced off the stands seconds later.
Lightning in the stadium fits this week. UW and Oregon intend to go fast and then faster there on Saturday.
Washington has run 85, 85, 81, 86 and 88 plays in each of its first five games. Across the country, only Cal (470), Fresno State (447), Brigham Young (443) and Texas Tech (438) have run more plays through five games than UW. The Huskies’ average of 85 plays is 16 more than they ran per contest last season.
It’s not just that the Dawgs are running plays quickly. They are thundering through them. Washington is fifth in the nation in total offense (557 yards per game), third in third-down conversions (58.3 percent) and seventh in completion percentage (71.3 percent). Bishop Sankey is No. 4 in the country averaging 146.4 yards rushing per game.
Oregon is averaging 77.2 plays per game through its five wins in five games. The Ducks, behind dynamic quarterback Marcus Mariota – a UW football camper after his junior year of high school – are second in the nation averaging 59.2 points per game. They are averaging 335.8 yards rushing per game, third nationally, and
“They go fast. They execute very well. They have premier speed on the perimeter with their wide receivers and running backs,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. “They look like a dynamic football team that can hurt you in all three phases.”
Sarkisian acknowledges that some of the reason he changed the Dawgs’ primary offense to being super-fast without any huddling this past spring was to keep pace in the second half of this very game, to combat Oregon. The Ducks have beaten Washington nine consecutive times.
"It was part of it, because I saw the success they had with it," Sarkisian said.
But it’s not just on offense where the Huskies feel better prepared for the Ducks.
The corollary reason for switching to the no-huddle offense full time in March was to get the UW defense used to playing against it each day in practice.
For years, since before Chip Kelly took over the Ducks in 2009 and before he left for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles last winter, countless opponents have hung with Oregon for about a half. So-called “upset alerts” have rung out across the nation. Then, in the second half, Oregon’s relentless pace has pounded defenses to dust – the same state in which the Ducks have ultimately left most foes on the scoreboard.
But these Huskies have been defending without huddling, with perhaps 15 seconds at most between plays, each day from the first week of March until last week, when Stanford huddled in UW’s 31-28 loss. They have learned the tricks to substituting on the fly like a hockey team. They – specifically middle linebacker and signal caller John Timu -- have mastered getting play calls from the sidelines by reading quick hand signals and disseminating the information with equally simple, brief verbal cues.
Yes, it’s working. Washington is 10th in the nation in total defense (287.8 yards per game) and third in the country in pass efficiency defense (81.17).
No, this is not at all the same defense that lost 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl just two seasons ago. That was Sarkisian’s idea behind hiring Justin Wilcox as his defensive coordinator before last season, and then going to the no-huddle offense before this one.
And that is why this is perhaps the best the Huskies have ever been prepared to counter Oregon’s speed.
“We’ve gone to the up-tempo offense for this reason,” UW senior defensive end and co-captain Hau’oli Kikaha said following Tuesday’s practice. “This is what we changed the way we play for. We changed our conditioning, our offense, our practices, the way we lift weights … everything.
“We are better prepared.”
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Keith Price practiced fully with the thumb he banged on his throwing hand Saturday night at Stanford taped again. The quarterback looked just as Sarkisian said Monday: fine for this weekend. … UW has allowed just seven points in the first quarter and seven points in the fourth quarter this season. … More defense: Washington’s offense has turned the ball over six times this season. None of those turnovers have resulted in points against the Huskies.