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Send Lappano to Gainesville this summer
Desperate times call for despot measures
Richard Linde, 27 April 2005

At Saturday’s scrimmage, Washington’s offense stunk up the joint. Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano may have thought so too, saying, "To me, the most disappointing thing of the whole scrimmage was our inability to do what we've talked about doing, to be physical and bring back the two-back run game to the University of Washington."

He said that knowing the two teams were divided evenly with the best offensive and defensive players split apart on each side. Certainly, the best offensive players weren’t wearing Purple when it went three-and-out on the first possession of the game. However, the Purple wasn’t playing against the best defense either. Collectively, the two defenses had six potential starters absent because of injury or illness. The two teams split three scholarship cornerbacks between them.

During the scrimmage, the Huskies rushed for just 42 yards on 34 carries overall and got 82 yards on 21 carries from their running backs.

"Our identity on offense will come from our ability to run the football," Lappano said, early into the spring practices. "When we throw, we'll get the ball off quickly and throw what should be a high-percentage pass…I think we need to make a commitment to the run. The players have to believe in it. The coaching staff has to believe in it. We have other stuff and we will do some of that other stuff. But we are going to be a power-run football team first."

The coaches are installing power-running for a team that finished sixth in conference rushing last season? Give me a break. The Huskies haven’t had a decent rushing attack since the 2000 season when they averaged 211 yards per game.

Since then the Huskies have averaged 106.5 yards per game carrying the ball over four seasons.

Lappano has talked about a multiple offense run out of multiple sets: running with a single back and with two backs, spreading the field at times, using the West Coast offense at others.

That sounds like a typical Pac-10 offense. But Washington is an atypical conference team; next season’s running attack will implode faster than you can say "Todd Turner" unless some pizzazz is added.

What’s missing from Lappano’s offensive plan is the option. Back in the Huskies’ 2000 season, Marques Tuiasosopo (photo above) ran the option almost to perfection.

One year earlier, former coach Rick Neuheisel went to the option after losing the first two games to BYU and the Air Force Academy. In a game played against Stanford later in the season, Tuiasosopo passed for 302 yards and ran for 207 yards, becoming the first player in NCAA Division I-A history to rush for 200 yards and pass for 300 in the same game.

After Tuiasosopo’s remarkable game, then-Tree-coach Tyrone Willingham said, “It was not so much the option that was making the difference, but the quarterback. He (Tuiasosopo) made some outstanding plays.”

Coaching the UW now, Willingham has two quarterbacks who are more than capable of running an option attack: Isaiah Stanback and Carl Bonnell.

So, why not install the option? (For one, it chops the quarterback derby in half.) Better yet, why not make the option part of the shotgun and spread the field out, using the attack Urban Meyer made famous at Utah.

Meyer’s offense spreads the defense horizontally with the threat of an option game (double and triple options) and vertically because of the threat of 3 or 4 quick wide receivers; it features five basic runs: the zone dive, the trap, the trap option, the triple option, and the speed option. The passing game consists of play action and sprint out passes. Although neither Stanback nor Bonnell may be an Alex Smith, who went first in the NFL draft, both are capable of running and passing.  

In his article describing Utah’s spread offense, Brian Smith says, "Because an opposing defense is unable to stack the line of scrimmage with eight men due to the four and five wide receiver sets, the quarterback has a smorgasbord of options with the running game alone. You will see the quarterback run the ball himself on draw plays, traps where the offense guard will pull and be a lead blocker, and even an occasional quarterback sweep."

In the spread offense, the threat of the passing game forces a defense into nickel and dime packages, making it easier to run against. The offense allows teams with weaker personnel to move the ball against superior players because all of them need not be blocked.

The UW has reached a critical juncture in its storied football history. Its coaches need to earn their salaries with creativity and innovation -- which will require hard work on their part. Going with the current running game and relying on defense and kicking to keep the UW in its games is a recipe for mediocrity.

Being conservative may pay the dues at the country club in the near future but it won't pay the bills due at the athletic department in the long run.

As a Dawg, should he have replaced Keith Gilbertson, Meyer would have frothed at the mouth chasing the quick feet of Stanback and Bonnell this spring. 

Tying feet to turf, the idea of ignoring your playmakers surely walks the path of the buffoon. (Playmakers all, Stanback, Bonnell, WR Corey Williams, WR Craig Chambers, RB Louis Rankin, and RB Shelton Sampson need to see the playing field big time). 

Willingham wants 90% of his troops to stay in Seattle for summer workouts. This summer, he needs to send Lappano to Gainesville for some working sessions with Urban Meyer.

I know all of this may sound whimsical, but desperate times call for despot (Willingham?) measures.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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