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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
answer that question. If Einstein couldn't get a handle on uncertainty
in the face of determinism, how can I?
UW's rushing offense over the last 10 years.
Hurst, 54.6; Tui 49.2
Hurst 60.7; Alexis 35.55
Alexis 62.55; Cleman 19.0
James 44.17; Sampson 22.82
James 63.82; Sims 19.27
Sims 45.0; Stanback 32.09
Rankin 55.5; James 41.6
Rankin 99.54; Locker 82.17