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Lighting up the LEDs this spring
Richard Linde, 1 April 2009

Washington’s spring game will be held on April 25. Since the team is playing itself and since the playbook will be limited, with key players off limits to tackling, an old question arises: How much viable information about the team can be gleaned from such a limited game? (Photo by Chris Barnhart, last year's game).

Well last year’s spring game was a harbinger of what took place during the regular season. For example, the three long drives (67, 58, and 57 yards) by the second team offense against the second team defense did not auger well for the Dawgs -- this, being the biggest downer of the game. The Huskies lost seven games in 2007, in games they had a chance to win in the second half. In part, they were lost because of a lack of depth on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The 2008 team ended up 0-12 on the season and gave up a school record 458.1 yards per game in Total Defense.

Furthermore, the Gold team (second team offense and first team defense) beat the Purple team (the first team offense and second team defense), 10-7. The anemic 17 total points was a precursor of the average points scored per game during the regular season: 13.2. (*)

By contrast, in the 2007 spring game, the Huskies put 51 total points on the board and finished the regular season posting 29.2 points per game in a season that went 4-9.

Can the Huskies match that offensive output this spring? Put another way, can they put more points on the board this year than last year’s 17 points, this against a defense that gave up an average of 38.6 points per game? (The defense is likely to improve this year, but commonsense says not a whole lot.)

To answer that question, why not go back to the 2007 spring game format, which matched up the first team offensive and defensive units against the backups? (See my projected starting lineups in Table 2 below)

Table 1. Goals for putting more points on the board.

Improve passing efficiency

Look for a power running back

Find more playmakers on offense

Look for more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions.

Improve the offensive line: both run and pass blocking.

Quarterback Jake Locker needs to improve on his passing efficiency and be a more consistent passer this season. Because he’ll probably run less this season under the new offensive scheme, it is important the Dawgs make up for the deficiency by fielding a more consistent passing attack than they have had in the last two years.  The Huskies ranked 117th in the nation in pass efficiency offense last season and 107th the year before.

Over his 16-game career at Washington, Locker has had a passing efficiency rating of over 100 in 9 games, averaging 129.14. In the other 7 games, he has a mediocre average rating of 77.14, finishing below 100 in all of them.

Over those 16 games Locker has completed 48.7% of his passes, and in four games last season, completed 53.7% of his passes. Head Coach Steve Sarkisian says he wants Locker to complete over 60% of his passes this year.

Presumably, both Sarkisian and Quarterback Coach Doug Nussmeier will be tweaking Locker’s throwing motion during the spring. Last spring, in the spread formation, Locker completed 13 of 17 passes for 159 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a rating of 161.69? Locker posted a 103.6 in the four games he played in the regular season.

In last year’s spring game, Locker’s long throws were disappointing, although there were some good defensive plays made on his receivers. One long throw was intercepted by Quinton Richardson, who, on the runback, was tackled by a bulling Locker who ran through Mason Foster to get to him. 

Coincidentally, in the Stanford game, Locker broke his right thumb throwing a block on a 27-yard end around for Jordan Polk. His hand seemed to twist awkwardly on the right leg of safety Sean Wiser, whom he was blocking.

Bob Condotta, in his column this morning over at the Seattle Times, writes about the first day of spring practice, saying, "Locker said he's not quite 100 percent — he said the cold weather helped remind him of the injury. But he said overall that, 'I felt pretty good today. It was fun to be able to get back out there again and be part of it and not just be a spectator.'"

Checkout Nick Daschel's column on Pac-10 cornerbacks for 2009 over at Buster Sports. (Click on link).

WR D’Andre Goodwin caught 7 passes for 109 yards, which was a precursor of his 2008 regular season when he caught 60 passes for 692 yards. However, he only caught one touchdown pass, which mimicked the one touchdown pass he caught in last year’s spring game. In fact, UW’s returning corps of pass receivers only caught 3 touchdown passes on the 2008 season: Goodwin (1) and Jermaine Kearse (2). The Dawgs posted 6 in all, this number against a whopping 15 interceptions.

In last year’s spring game, a pesky Willie Griffin led all rushers with 71 yards on 20 carries. Chris Polk, playing running back and receiver, led the Purple with 20 yards on five carries and had 25 yards on four receptions. However, the Purple rushed for just 37 yards, the total yards being diminished by some sacks and tackles for a loss.

Chris Izbicki looked good at tight end, making two nice catches. During the regular season, he ended up in Tyrone Willingham’s doghouse and didn’t play. This spring, Sarkisian has emptied Ty's infamous doghouse, giving everyone inside a clean slate.

In last year’s spring game, no one assumed an offensive-playmaker’s role, other than Locker and Goodwin.

In addition to them, that role this spring could be filled from some viable candidates, such as TE Kavario Middleton, TE Chris Izbicki, WR Devin Aquilar, WR Cody Bruns, WR Anthony Boyles, WR Jermaine Kearse, RB Willie Griffin, RB Brandon Johnson, RB Demetrius Bronson, RB Curtis Shaw, RB Terrance Daily, RB David Freeman, FB Paul Homer, and QB Ronnie Fouch.

One or both of them, a bulked up Curtis Shaw and/or incoming gray-shirt freshman Demetrius Bronson, could be the power running back for which Sarkisian is searching. The Dawgs averaged a little over 99 yards per game running the ball last season, led by Daily who accumulated 338 yard on 75 rushes, for an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

Of course, the offensive line will need to open some holes for them. Three starters return to the line, which as a unit performed poorly last season, and far below expectations. This spring, Sarkisian is moving DT Senio Kelemete over to the offensive line. I expect "Sark" to move one more defensive lineman over to the offensive line before the spring game.

After the 10-week winter conditioning program ended, Sarkisian told a group of us alums at Indian Wells the offensive line combined to lose over 200 pounds. The goal for the coaching staff is to remold the line into a sleeker, more athletic unit.

"To me, we've inherited a team that was a big, physical football team, that maybe didn't move as well as we liked," Sarkisian said. "...I think we're starting to shape this team in the way we wanted it to be shaped."

On April 25, the Dawgs need to put more points on the board than they did in last season’s spring game. Otherwise, they will be in deep yogurt -- more realistically said, in deeper yogurt -- when they face LSU in the first game of the regular season.

Nick Daschel of Buster Sports has an opinion about the Husky fan base (see Link).

 Table 2. Potential offensive lineup for Spring Game (my own predilections)

 Purple  Gold

WR D'Andre Goodwin

WR Devin Aquillar

TE Kavario Middleton

TE Chris Izbicki

LT Ben Ossai

LT Senio Kelemete

LG Ryan Tolar

LG Scott Shugert

C Matt Sedillo

C Mykenna Ikehara

RG Morgan Rosborough

RG Allen Carroll

RT Cody Habben

RT Skyler Fancher

WR Jermaine Kearse

WR Anthony Boyles

QB Jake Locker

QB Ronnie Fouch

TB Chris Polk

TB Brandon Johnson

FB Paul Homer

FB Austin Sylvester

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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