It's sometimes surprising what a difference a few months can make. If you want an example, just take a look at Washington State's offense. Early last season the Cougars quit running the no-huddle, giving in when any chance of executing it correctly died in a blizzard of injuries. But this week they've run it, at times, better than at any point last year. Read on for the unedited version of my story on the revival of the offensive weapon.
• Here's the story that will appear in tomorrow's S-R …
PULLMAN – As Washington State University's hopes for a winning 2008 football season slipped away last year, nothing was buried quicker than the commitment to the no-huddle offense.
Injuries, inexperience and other factors forced first-year coach Paul Wulff and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy to jettison the scheme that worked so well for them at Eastern Washington.
But their faith in the system? That survived.
So the no-huddle is back. And, after lees than a week of fall practice, it's already obvious the term execution means something positive in 2009.
"I think the overall execution has increased," Sturdy said Friday between the Cougars' two practices in preparation for the season opener Sept. 5 against Stanford. "There are a lot of moving parts, obviously, but I think on every play we're having fewer and fewer breakdowns."
The offense used the no-huddle to break down their defensive brethren during the morning scrimmage sessions, hitting hard and fast at times, slowing the pace at others.
"It's just part of our tempo," Sturdy explained. "We have the ability to change the speed of how we are operating."
If it's run right. Such was not the case last season. So, to help the process along, the offense drilled often during the off-season.
"In the summer we worked on all our different stuff, some of the new stuff and a lot of the old stuff, we worked hard as a team," said quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who is battling with Kevin Lopina for the starting spot. "We didn't go out just as a position group, we got the whole offense out in the summer and did some work, players-only type of stuff."
Plus, Lobbestael added, "It is our second year in the system (and) the coaches are making it really easy for us."
Experience is important, but just part of the formula, according to tight end Tony Thompson.
"Combined with us just having a better system on getting the signals," he said, "as well as our conditioning we did over the summer, that all helps in the end to execute better and to run that no-huddle efficiently."
But Sturdy is quick to point out there are strides still to take, especially as defenses make adjustments that are sure to come.
It happened Friday afternoon. After getting pushed around in the morning and giving up scores on the first two afternoon drives, the Cougar defense stiffened.
Only one of the next four possessions resulted in any positive yardage, and the one big play – a Lobbestael to Kevin Norrell 25-yard touchdown throw – was the direct result of a mixup in the defensive backfield.
"The first (two) drives they let them go right down and score," Wulff said of the defense's play during the day's final scrimmage. "It was nice to see them respond. ... They made some plays."
So the no-huddle isn't a panacea, but just another weapon in an offense that hopes to be more productive, especially on the ground.
"That's definitely going to help us in the run game, especially if we have a solid rotation in there," Thompson said. "We have plenty of depth at running back. That, with the fact that we are running no-huddle and constantly going, that can help us in the long run for sure."
• That's it for now. We'll be back soon with our usual afternoon post. Until then …