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FALLBACK ON STANBACK?
Only if the option doesn't pan out
By: Richard Linde, Posted 7 June 2002


Photo of Isaiah Stanback courtesy of dawgman.com
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 exceptional talents. 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 in the 2000 season, averaging 212 yards per game. The option--and concomitantly ball control--was essential to Washingtons success, and as a result, the Dawgs finished 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 people of Cade McNowns iron-man stints. Although taking his lumps as a pro, McNown, started in some 43-straight games for UCLA. Both McNown and Tuiasosopo were able to throw the ball on the run as well as anybody has before in this league. 

Because of Washington’s success with the option and because of its inexperienced offensive line last season, the Huskies had Cody Pickett run the option to bolster its running attack. But Pickett suffered a third-degree separation to his throwing shoulder on a running play against USC, the fourth game of the season, and the option more or less faded away.

As a consequence, the Dawgs finished next-to-last in Pac-10 rushing. The lack of an effective running game put considerable pressure on Pickett and his backup, Taylor Barton. This was especially true on the road, where costly turnovers, which occurred early in several games, eventually led to blowouts against the Huskies.

Even though the Huskies return a veteran offensive line—four of five linemen returning—they will need to run the option occasionally this upcoming season. Based on its performance last season, it would be expecting too much this fall, for a complete turnaround in the running game without some help.

And that poses a dilemma. Which quarterback will run the option, Cody Pickett or Taylor Barton?

Because of his shoulder surgery, Pickett gives the coaches a conundrum when faced with signaling an option play into him. He looked rusty in the spring game, and has yet to take a hit on his repaired-throwing shoulder. Last season, at times, he executed the option tentatively and indecisively. On the other hand, backup quarterback Taylor Barton had a magnificent spring, and although he is more than agile and elusive enough to run the option, he doesn't fit the mold of an option quarterback—an Eric Crouch, say, the first true option quarterback in the 67-year history of the Heisman Trophy award. But, obviously, not many quarterbacks do. 

With Husker football partially in mind—after all, the Huskies can pass the ball—it's safe to say that Fullback Zach Tuiasosopo can readily sell the dive play, which is essential for the successful execution of the option. All of the ingredients are there, except for Pickett's questionable shoulder and last year's indecisiveness.

A given, Cody Pickett is the starting quarterback, and deservedly so. He has a splendid throwing arm and has the summer months to prepare for next season. So...

If Pickett and the option don't materialize, one possible solution to this dilemma is to use incoming freshman Isaiah Stanback as an option quarterback in certain situations, especially in the red zone, where the Huskies were so feckless last season. According to Rick Neuheisel, of all the high school quarterbacks in the nation that he saw on videotape, Stanback was the best. The videotape we saw of him supports that notion. Clearly, Stanback is more than capable of running the option in limited situations. He's 6-3, 190 and a burner (4.4 in the 40).

This all depends on Stanback coming up to speed quickly, the coaches' willingness to burn his redshirt year and, last but not least, their ability to sell their talented, backup quarterbacks, Taylor Barton and Casey Paus, on the idea.

The last part might not be easy. 

As fans, let's hope that the option pans out and that the Huskies don't have to fallback on Stanback. 

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