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Uncertainty: Locker, Sarkisian and the soul of Husky football
Richard Linde, 27 February 2009

I've Just finished reading David Lindley's excellent book, "Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr and the struggle for the soul of science." Still reeling -- my head spinning -- from the accomplishments of these men and the dilemma they faced during the 1920s, I needed to clear my head by writing an article about the dilemma Steve Sarkisian faces, which isn't nearly as puzzling as quantum theory.

While I was reading about the early life of physicist Werner Heisenberg that dilemma came to mind.

Steve Sarkisianís electrifying presence has enthused the Husky fan base to the extent that many of them feel the Huskies will be playing .500 ball in two or three years.

Amidst the aura of jubilation and optimism for the future of our Husky world, there is a certain amount of uncertainty, as in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which dominates the quantum world. That is, the more precisely one property is known about a two-property variable, the less precisely the other property can be known.

For us fans, what Heisenberg is saying is that if we set a goal of having a break-even season, we don't know precisely what momentum is needed. If we set a path for momentum, we don't know at what time or position in space we will be in when we reach that breakeven season or better.  That is, the values of certain pairs of conjugate variables (position and momentum, for instance) cannot both be known with exact precision.

What uncertainty says for a football coach is that he can never be sure whether his star quarterback isn't going to Coug it or not.

Unfortunately, the Huskies' momentum is dampened by a dichotomy. On the one hand you have an ebullient coach that wants to install a pro-style offense at Washington and, on the other hand, you have a quarterback who is better suited for the spread-option offense -- for Jake Locker is the Tim Tebow of the west and Steve Sarkisian is the master of calling plays in a pro-style offense, being a former offensive coordinator at USC where he successfully orchestrated that type of offense.

Over the last ten years, in seven different seasons, the Huskies have finished sixth or worse in the Pac-10 in rushing offense. In the 1999 and 2000 seasons, the Dawgs finished second and first in rushing offense, respectively, using the multifaceted talents of option quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. In 2007, the Huskies finished second in the Pac-10 in rushing yards thanks to spread-option quarterback Jake Locker and his synergistic partner Louis Rankin, who rushed for 1294 yards. Locker accounted for 984 yards rushing in 2007. (See table below).

The argument for the pro-style offense says it will be better for Lockerís future when he turns pro and for the Huskiesí program in the long run, as Sark will be able to attract those five-star nuggets who are better suited to leading a pro-style offense, or west-coast offense, say.

The argument for the spread option offense says that at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Locker is the power-running back Washington desperately needs, carrying a momentum of mass m traveling at speed v. Also, correcting deficiencies on the offensive line are better met with the spread.

I'm sure Locker will run the ball somewhat unrestrainedly under Sarkisian's offense -- Jake is hard to rein in -- but not as much as he did during the 2007 season. In that season, Locker provided 80% of the offense. Sarkisian has said he doesn't want his offense depending on the skills of just one man and, in a spread-option offense that would certainly seem to be the case.

But that doesn't mean Jake can't line up in the shotgun once or twice in a game, does it? Or, say, use the inside shovel off the speed option, as Florida did in the BCS championship game, with Tebow shoveling the ball off to the tight end when Oklahoma's defensive end kept outside leverage on him?

After the offensive line's performance in the 2007 season, fans expected it to be even stronger the following season. The performance of what was expected to be that of a road grader turned into that of a second grader on his first day at school. The 2008 OL stunk up the joint.

Perhaps the synergy of Locker, Rankin and the spread offense made the 2007 OL look better than it was, just as Tui, Alexis and the option had done in the 2000 season.

The spread is not necessarily dead at Washington.

Several teams in the National Football League have already adapted and used the spread to full effect; for example, one being the current Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and, another, its opponent in the Super Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals. And then there are the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins.

Rick Neuheisel turned to both the option attack and Tui after the Dawgs lost their first two games of Rick's nascent season at Washington? Will history repeat itself next season, with Sark going to both the spread option and Jake if the Dawgs get off to a bad start?

I can't answer that question. If Einstein couldn't get a handle on uncertainty in the face of determinism, how can I?

Table. UW's rushing offense over the last 10 years.

Year

Yards P/G Pac-10

Leading rusher

1999

189.7 2nd

Hurst, 54.6; Tui 49.2

2000

211.7 1st

Alexis 67.1

2001

111.73 9th

Hurst 60.7; Alexis 35.55

2002

74.46 9th

Alexis 62.55; Cleman 19.0

2003

119.5 6th

James 44.17; Sampson 22.82

2004

120.18 6th

James 63.82; Sims 19.27

2005

135.18 6th

Sims 45.0; Stanback 32.09

2006

127.92 7th

Rankin 55.5; James 41.6

2007

203.1 2nd

Rankin 99.54; Locker 82.17

2008

99.3 7th

Griffin 24.33

 

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

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