Putting the sled before
the DawgsIs the offense slipping away under Willingham?Malamute, 19 February 2007
about the state of the offensive line is getting to be a habit for me in
February. Then in April, I complain about the anemic offense I saw in the spring game. In
September, the Huskies canít seem to run the ball, unless a whiz kid like
Isaiah Stanback does the legging.
Truth be told, the UW hasnít had a
decent running game since its Rose Bowl team of 2001. That team averaged
over 200 yards on the ground per game thanks to its offensive line and
all-purpose quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo.
Over that last six years (2001 - 2006
seasons), the UW has averaged a woeful 115.25 rushing yards per game,
with an average rank of 7.3 in the conference.
Before last season
began, Coach Willingham said the play of the offensive line would be the
most important ingredient in his quest to win a bowl game. Five wins
didn't get him to a bowl, and he can thank gifted QB Isaiah Stanback for
four of them.
UW loses two of its
best offensive linemen from a line that, for the most part, played
together all season long. By the time the Stanford game rolled around in
early November -- each of the 5 offensive linemen being worn to a nub like a
veritable lead pencil with tooth marks -- the offense barely moved the ball. Throw
out the 5 big plays in the Apple Cup the very next week, and the
offensive numbers looked same-old-same-old,
reinforcements, the offensive line play at Washington could be its
Achilles heel in future battles.
For example, in his
2003 recruiting class, Rick Neuheisel signed 7 wide receivers and 3
offensive linemen. In his 2007 recruiting class, Tyrone Willingham
signed 5 running backs (6, in effect, with Michael Houston) and brought
in 3 offensive linemen, two of them sleepers.
doesnít transfer (and counting J. R. Hasty, Matt Mosley, and
Louis Rankin), the Huskies will have nine running backs on board in
2007, with only 16 offensive linemen, none of the latter carrying four
or more stars at the time of their recruitment. When you consider attrition
and talent, there doesnít seem to be enough
high profilers for entrenchment on the front line.
Worse yet, over half of the
16 offensive linemen listed on scout.com are labeled NR (for not rated);
that is, they flew under the radar during their recruiting season and
were given a commensurate two stars by default.
As far as depth goes,
Bob Condotta (*) quotes offensive coordinator Tim Lappano as saying, "But
it's still an area of concern just as far as making sure we have enough
numbers." Reference Condotta's blog for more on the offensive line, "Coach
speak, volume four." (#)
Iím not criticizing the
2007 class, since I donít know diddlysquat about recruiting, but the
parallel between it and the one in 2003 seems quite similar, in that the
offensive line seems to have been short changed this year, just as it
was in 2003.
Did Tyrone put the cart
before the horse or, in this case, put the sled before the Dawgs?
Iíll ask him that
when I see him in the desert next month.
Lappano claims that UW
addressed the numbers problem with the past few recruiting classes,
including this one, but he seems contradictory on that issue. (See the blog entry.)
To post four or more wins this next season, the play of the OL will be
even more critical than it was last year.
Last season (2006), statistically speaking, Washington finished in the
bottom half of the conference in Scoring Offense, Total Offense, Pass
Offense, Rush Offense, and Pass Efficiency Offense. UW finished fifth
in Red Zone Offense.
offensive categories worsened from the previous year.
|R. Z. Offense
The offensive stats
began slipping starting with the seventh game of the season, in a game
against Oregon State, in which Stanback
sustained a season-ending foot sprain, and they continued to slide for the next four games, seemingly headed back to
where they were in 2004, a 1-10 season. See
the table below and the "The
whole kit and caboodle is back."
||Penultimate 5 games
||First 6 games of 2006
Stanback and the
relatively fresh offensive line made the difference in the first part of
the season. The Huskies got off to a 4-1 start (5-7 overall) under
Isaiah's senior leadership.
In the UCLA game, for example, Stanback took
charge in the second half, leading the Huskies to victory, when, in the
first half, the game looked hopelessly lost.
spring scrimmages should have a lot to say about the offensive line and
its upcoming fandango with the conference teams.
Isaiah leaves a
quarterbacking crew whose future breeds uncertainty; the expected
starter is recovering from injury and the other two, in effect, are
freshmen. Coach needed to bring in one more scholarship quarterback for
If Houston leaves, there goes our power running back, and one so badly
Putting more points on
the board than last year could be at a premium next season. Scoring 21
points per game just won't cut in the Pac-10, nor will it with the fans.
The offensive line
empowers the offense. The guys up front, on both sides of the ball for
that matter, will influence the outcome of next season more than any
other group of players on the team.
As Frasier or Niles would say, "Willingham must find a
way to cut the Gordian knot that has become the offensive line."
(*) Bob Condotta is a
sportswriter for the Seattle Times.
Lappano goes on to say, "I think we've got the
makings of a good front out there. I love the attitude of the guys. They
are all workers, they all want to be good, studying film and all that,
and that's half the battle. I think they are in pretty good shape."
Comment: I guess I had better buy a new digital
camera for Picture Day 2007. Some of those big guys haven't looked
exactly chiseled to me in the past photos I've taken. A thought: They
need to stand up and hold their waists in. Maybe, I should get one of
the cheerleaders to take the pictures of the offensive linemen for me.