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To option or not to option?

Malamute--21 August 2001

Because of their talented receiving corps, the Huskies should have a strong passing attack this upcoming season. Barring injury, either Taylor Barton or Cody Pickett (or both), should be capable quarterbacks. They have the slings and their receivers have the wings to provide an aerial circus. Washington can doff its slothful image and turn into a quick-strike team at any moment. Toss Rambo an automatic weapon and he’s hard to stop.

All of this will depend on some steady play at quarterback. How durable will Pickett and Barton be? For continuity’s sake, it's important to keep them both healthy. Physically speaking neither of them appears to be a Marques Tuiasosopo—but not many quarterbacks are. As an aside, rumor has it that the Samoan warrior (Tui) struck an alliance with Hygeia, the Greek God of health, last season. Whether he did or not, Oakland fans will learn to worship Tui, as we fans did at Washington.

The Dawgs have had a rash of injuries in recent months. To avoid an epidemic, a strong running game will help keep Pickett and Barton off the injured list.

Enter the option.

After losing the Oahu Bowl in 1998 and its opening games against BYU and Air Force in 1999, Washington installed the option to take advantage of Marques Tuiasosopo's mobility and exceptional ability to throw on the run. Ending a three-game losing streak, the Dawgs won their next three games, winning five out of the next six altogether.

Eighth in the conference in passing (196 yards per game), Washington led the Pac-10 in rushing last season, averaging 212 yards per game. The option--and concomitantly ball control--was essential to Washington’s success, and as a result, the Dawgs were second in the conference in time-of-possession.

Having one of the Pac-10’s most durable quarterbacks ever, the Huskies worked the option with precision. The cast-iron constitution of Marques Tuiasosopo reminded me of Cade McNown’s (UCLA). Although taking his lumps as a pro, McNown, started in some 43 straight games for the Bruins. Both McNown and Tuiasosopo were able to throw the ball on the run as well as anybody has before in this league. 

To option or not to option?

If Pickett and/or Barton can run the option and garner some significant yards on the ground, they can expect to take some extra shots, which could be a catch-22 for the duo. Pickett and Barton will need a strong running game to stay healthy; however, is running the option the best way to keep them healthy? Keeping these two players free from injury is a must. That is not to say that Casey Paus wouldn’t be a capable replacement should the need arise. At this time Paus is mostly an unknown; whereas, Barton and Pickett showed considerable promise this spring. It would be nice for the Dawgs to have the luxury of redshirting Paus, giving him an extra year to develop as a quarterback.

The Dilemma.

Cody Pickett, a redshirt sophomore, is quite capable of running the option, whereas, Taylor Barton's ability to run it is questionable. Thanks to Husky Strength and Conditioning Coach, Bill Gillespie, Pickett has bulked up from when he was a freshman. He is no longer the frail kid, who redshirted his first year (1999) and suffered from a bad back. Gillespie, a rough hewn artist of sorts, has chiseled and sculpted away at Picket's large frame, adding sinew as taut as rebar to it. Added to his increased bulk and strength is more foot speed than his predecessor, Tuiasosopo. Look for the Huskies to run the option when Pickett is in there and to forgo it when Barton is running the team. 

Barton will have to open up the running game with his arm and his ability to pick teams apart. But because of that and the fact that Washington's offensive line is inexperienced, Barton can expect a lot of pressure from opposing defenses if the running game stalls, which could be somewhat of a dilemma for him. Barton, a junior, who quarterbacked at the junior college level last season, may be the more cerebral of the two. As such he may need to figure out a way to cut the Gordian knot to keep himself at the helm, considering the inexperience of his front line.

Option or not, since both quarterbacks have a learning curve to overcome, expect the Huskies' defense to buoy the offense in the early going, especially in games against Michigan and Miami, the first two on the schedule.

In the final analysis, the quarterback who makes the least number of mistakes will most likely win the battle for the starting job. Isn't that what a coach always says?

(The picture of Cody Pickett appearing above and on the front page of this web site, 
courtesy of dawgman.com).

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