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Has Washington joined the WCO?
Gilby needs to answer that question, but I'll give it a shot.
By: Malamute, Posted 11 March 2003

The Pac-10 is known for its whacko, wide-open passing attacks, and many of its teams employ a variation of the West Coast Offense in their offensive cookbooks. Breaking with its long tradition of power running, this last season’s version of the Washington Huskies was as zany and pass-happy as any of its conference cohorts--its offense being called one-dimensional by some experts.

The Huskies’ passing attack ranked fourth in the NCAA, and its QB, Cody Pickett, led the conference in passing (yards/game) and in total offense.

Have the Huskies joined conference members Cal, USC and Stanford, et al, for its implementation of what some might call a West Coast Offense? Or have the Huskies implemented a short-passing game that has little or no resemblance to the WCO as it was designed by Don Coryell and Sid Gillman and refined by Bill Walsh? You decide.

The bulleted items below list the tenets/criteria of the West Coast Offense, followed by a description of  how the Huskies' offense did-or-did not meet them for the 2002 season.
  • According to Bill Walsh, in the ideal setup, the wide receivers would catch 15 passes a game, the running backs would catch 10 and the tight ends would catch five. A team is looking for 25 first downs a game.

    For the most part, Washington's attack met this tenet of the WCO, i.e., Walsh's numbers. Leading the league in first downs, Washington averaged 24.9 first downs per game. During the course of the season, on average per game, the Huskies completed 19.8 passes to its WRs, 3.5 passes to its tight ends, and 5.3 passes to its RBs. In 2003, look for the Huskies to throw more to its fullback and tailbacks.

    Shown by the data in Table 1 below, the Huskies almost perfectly met Walsh's numbers in their game against Idaho, a game in which they won, 41-27. The Dawgs fell far short of those numbers in blowout losses to USC and Arizona State. Because the UW could not run the ball against USC, it threw the ball 16 times to its running backs.

    Next season look for incoming Juco Jon Lyon (TE), Ty Eriks (backup FB), and for speedsters Nate Robinson (CB) and Isaiah Stanback (backup QB), all to be tried in pass-catching rolls. Nowadays, it is more important for the Huskies to have the soft hands of a Jerramy Stevens at tight end rather than the blocking skills of a Kevin Ware. For the coaches in the Pac-10, it's a matter of getting the right personnel on the field to fashion their version of the WCO.

  • Short-to-medium-range passing attack. Receivers are expected to "Run After Catch."

    Washington's passing attack met this tenet of the WCO. The Huskies averaged 12.1 yards per pass completion. During the season, WR Reggie Williams had an 88-yard pass reception, WR Charles Frederick a 74-yard pass reception, and Paul Arnold a 66-yard pass reception, all of which qualify as Runs After Catch.

  • Players must have more discipline; they have little opportunity for freelancing.

    In the Pac-10, the Huskies were penalized the least amount of yards
  • per game, leading the conference in penalties incurred. The WCO is designed to cut down on penalties and turnovers.

  • Use the pass to set up the run. The most successful WCO teams run the ball well.

  • The Huskies set up the run with the pass and averaged 47.7 passes per game last season; they averaged 33 rushes per game. However, the lack of a successful running game put too much pressure on the passing attack, leaving it vulnerable to blitzes and bumping/holding tactics.

  • If a team gains 7-8 yards per run, it can run as little as one out of four plays; otherwise, the WCO calls for an equal number of running and passing plays.

  • Washington did not meet these criteria, averaging 74 yards per game on the ground. The Huskies averaged 47.7 passes per game and ran the ball on the average 33 times per game. QB Cody Pickett was credited with 6.4 runs per game, with an average loss of 11 yards per game.

  • The quarterback must be mobile, be able to throw a touch pass with accuracy, and be intelligent.

    QB Cody Pickett more than meets these criteria.

  • In the 2-WR, 2-RB, 1-TE base set, any of these five players can be the primary receiver at any given time.

    The UW meets this criteria.

  • Defenses are given a variety of looks, with an offense attacking a defense with more receivers than it can cover. Mismatches and confusion are created on defense by using 2 TE sets, 4 WR sets, and 3 WR sets, etc.

    The Huskies give the opposition a variety of looks.

  • Using motion forces a defense to cover players with inappropriate players for coverage, i.e., it creates mismatches.

    Washington meets this tenet of the WCO.

  • Throw the football on any down or distance.

    The Huskies are not reluctant to throw the ball on fourth down and were second in the conference in fourth down conversions (58.3%). However, in the game against Texas in the 2001 Holiday Bowl, the offense demurred from passing in the fourth quarter when it had poor field position. Not being able to control the clock at that point in the game proved costly.

  • To maintain ball control, short passes to the tight end and swing passes to running backs are key. Use tight ends who can catch better than block if there is a question of personnel. Tight ends are key to a red zone attack.

    Washington was second in the Pac-10 in Time of Possession, averaging 32:25 (minutes/seconds) per game. The Dawgs maintained ball control in almost every game they played; however, QB Cody Pickett could have completed more passes to TEs Kevin Ware, known for his blocking ability, and to Joe Toledo, who says he's working on emulating former TE Jerramy Stevens' pass-catching techniques. At least, he told me that at Picture Day 2002. Not enough passes were thrown to the fullback, Zach Tuiasosopo (photo above), who excels at blocking rather than at catching passes.

  • The quarterback must be able to release the ball quickly and accurately on timing after a 3-step drop. Receivers run precision routes. The offense is designed to keep the quarterback healthy.

    QB Cody Pickett has a quick release, sets up well and has receivers that run precision routes. Pickett, who is also mobile and intelligent, is an excellent pro-prospect because he fits nicely within a WCO implementation. He was not injured during the 2002 season and played in every game. To be more effective, he needs to run the ball more, like Rich Gannon of the Oakland Raiders.

  • After the QB drops 3-steps back, one of the receivers should be open to catch a pass if necessary. Ron Jenkins calls him the HOT receiver.

    Washington meets this criteria. At times Pickett, will take a step-back from the center and whip the ball to a wide-out, who will run for 5 or 6 yards.

  • Power running behind zone blocking to minimize negative yardage plays. This is a departure from the 49ers version of the WCO that used man-blocking and cut blocks and misdirection.

    Washington employs zone-blocking techniques. It lacked a power running attack.

Table 1. Washington versus its opponents in the 2002 season. The nomenclature and data, which apply to solely Washington, are as follow: Number of catches by the wide receivers (WR), number of catches by tight ends (TE), number of catches by fullback (FB), and number of catches by the tailback (TB). Pass=number of passes thrown in the game; Run=number of running plays in the game. QB=number of runs by the quarterback; YG=yards gained by the quarterback. Red numbers indicate minus yardage. * Walsh's number includes the fullback.


Team WR TE FB TB Pass Run QB YG
Michigan 19 4 1 0 45 34 4 10
SJS 17 3 0 2 35 35 4 0
Wyoming 26 4 0 7 48 36 5 13
Idaho 19 6 1 6 45 43 7 8
Cal 25 3 0 12 59 26 12 3
Arizona 17 5 1 2 35 32 6 4
USC 14 7 1 15 65 19 4 23
ASU 14 0 0 3 37 40 11 45
UCLA 21 5 0 3 60 42 7 30
OSU 15 4 0 3 43 36 3 1
Oregon 24 1 0 1 37 28 4 10
WSU 26 2 1 5 57 34 8 52
Purdue 19 1 1 3 54 24 8 8
Average 19.8 3.5 .5 4.8 47.7 33 6.4 11
Walsh's 15 5   10*        

Reference this article in the series: The Pac-10 and the West Coast Offense


Jenkins, Ron, “Coaching the Multiple West Coast Offense,” Coaches Choice, 2001.

Walsh, Bill with Glenn Dickey, “Building a Champion: On Football and the Making of the 49ers,” Saint Martins Press, 1990.

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