In a Pac-12 North Division where their rivals rely on signature offensive styles, the Huskies’ offense isn’t easily labeled.
It’s not Washington State’s Air Raid passing attack. It’s not Oregon’s blur tempo. It’s not Stanford’s pound-you-into-submission force.
Those characterizations might be overly simplified – no offense is entirely one thing – but there isn’t a simple descriptor for the Huskies’ offense. It’s many things, by design: It’s part spread, part pistol, part trickery – and, for many Husky fans the past two seasons, part maddening.
En route to a 7-6 finish last season, the Huskies ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in total offense (403.1 yards per game) and ninth in scoring (30.6 points). They averaged 6.0 yards per play, which ranked seventh in the conference.
The Huskies ran just 67.2 plays per game last season – among Pac-12 teams, only Oregon State (65.8) and Stanford (66.3) averaged fewer – and they plan to continue to operate at a deliberate pace, in large part because they believe that’s the best way to set up their own defense for success.
That UW defense, the Pac-12’s best in 2015, has made life difficult for the UW offense throughout fall camp this month. Part of that, UW coaches say, is because they have introduced new plays and new formations on offense, and it’s taken time for sophomore quarterback Jake Browning et al to find a rhythm with those.
“We had a stretch there with some back-to-back days that were pretty good,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said this week. “But we’ve come back to reality a little bit, too. So we’ll find out. I feel better than I did a year ago, no doubt.”
The No. 14 Huskies, a 22-point favorite against Rutgers for their Saturday opener, are giving Browning more to process in his second year. Depending on what formation a defense is showing, UW coach Chris Petersen said Browning has many options to alter or tweak a play call.
“There might be 20 things where it’s like, ‘If (the defense) gives us this, you’re going to this,’” Petersen said. “That’s different than a lot of college football. A lot of college football is run fast and we’ll catch ’em off guard and we’re going.”
The Huskies’ “multiple” offense features many two- and three-tight-end formations, and they move – or “motion,” in the vernacular – their tight ends, and others, before the snap more than most. That’s often a way to help the QB read the defense.
The goal, Petersen said, is to be balanced – about 50-50 on run-pass plays – and unpredictable. One week they might throw the ball 52 times, as they did against Arizona State last November; another game, they might have only 21 pass attempts, as they did a week later against Oregon State.
“Ideally, still, you’re a balanced run-pass team,” Petersen said. “We just always feel like – a good team in our eyes, for our style, is we can run the ball. And a lot of things get set up off that.”
The hope is that UW’s offense, the youngest in school history last year, will benefit from some of its growing pains. The coaches are confident in Browning, and sophomore Myles Gaskin gives them a proven running back with designs on another 1,000-yard season.
Petersen also brought in former colleague Jeff Tedford, the longtime California coach, to be a consultant for the offense. On game days, the plan is for Tedford to travel with the team and to be in the coaches’ box with Smith. UW’s offensive game plan has always been a collaborative effort anyway – with Petersen, Smith and assistants Chris Strausser and Keith Bhonapha all having input – and Tedford gives them another experienced presence to lean on.
Going up against the Pac-12’s top defense each day in practice, the Huskies hope, should also pay off on Saturdays.
“I know we’ve got a long way to go,” said Strausser, UW’s offensive line coach. “We line up against a really talented defense every day, and that’s really challenging to walk away from (feeling) really, really confident. But with that being said, I think we feel good about the guys. … There definitely is more of a comfort level.”
Beyond being “multiple,” the Huskies’ offense probably won’t be easily defined again this season. But it should be better.
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