Former UW coach Jim Lambright urges college defenses: "Attack!"
Former Washington head coach and longtime defensive coordinator Jim Lambright has the answer to stop today's high-powered college offenses: "Attack."
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Turn on the TV any Saturday and you'll see it: Offensive players peering at the sideline, soaking in signals. Quarterbacks pulling the ball from the belly of a running back and crossing the grain of the defense. Wide receivers sneaking into the backfield, taking direct snaps.
"I love it," says Jim Lambright.
As a fan, he means. As an old defensive coordinator, the guy who introduced Washington and the nation to the attacking eight-man front, it has to pain him.
This is the college-football world we're living in now:
• Missouri's first-team offense hasn't had a three-and-out this year in 48 possessions. That's the equivalent of four games.
• Three teams are averaging more than 50 points, none of them Oklahoma. In fact, if Missouri and Oklahoma State hit their averages Saturday against each other, Mizzou wins, 53-52.
• The Big 12 — suddenly the epicenter of all things offensive — has five quarterbacks with 70-percent-plus completion percentages.
On the theory that too much of anything is bad, with the possible exception of mocha almond fudge ice cream, I went to Lambright the other day and asked him what he'd do today to stanch the blood flowing from the defensive side.
Not surprisingly, he said, "Attack."
He watched last week as his old staff-mate, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, engineered an offense that buried Nebraska, 52-17.
Lambright has always thought of the offense-defense confrontation not only in terms of X's and O's, but also which side might have the edge in responses, confidence and psychology. Right now, that's clearly no-huddle, spread-option offenses.
"They go up to the line of scrimmage, stand there, and stop and take a look at the sidelines," Lambright said. "Now the coach is signaling in new plays. They're making the decision quarterbacks used to make [with audibles]. They're actually executing a preferred scouting report on you."
So here's what Lambright would do: Crowd the line of scrimmage, just as his defenses used to. Try to overload a side with one more defender than the line can block. Jam the receivers. Punish the quarterback for all these offensive pyrotechnics.
In other words, dictate.
He never much liked nickel-and-dime defenses, figuring they diluted practice time as well as the defense's overall posture.
"I want to be able to give the confidence that we have the answers," he says. "What you've got right now is a lot of defenses going, 'Whoa.' "
But, you say, it's fine when you have shutdown corners and safeties that can not only cover deep but also confront tailbacks on the perimeter. Run-stuffing tackles and ends that can move. What if you've got six-win talent? What if you're Washington or Washington State, 2008 version?
"I think even with not as good people, you've got to have an aggressive approach," Lambright said. "Maybe it would even justify it more, the worse you are. If you're standing back there [passively] and trying to keep it simple, you might as well give the defense the gun and say, 'Shoot yourself in the head.'
"When we were at our best, our defensive kids were carrying this over onto our special teams. They were returning punts, blocking punts. It's an attitude you're selling, an energy this scheme created."
Lambright lives in Woodinville, doing consulting and team-building for a construction company. He and his wife each battled, and overcame, bouts with cancer.
Back in 1989, at a tipping point in Don James' career at Washington, the Huskies lost 34-32 to Arizona State.
"They stood back there [on offense] and knew everything we were doing," Lambright said. "It was the worst feeling I ever had."
In the following days, James allowed the defensive staff to completely revamp the scheme. And thus was born a whole genre of eight-man-front, attack defenses that dominated the '90s.
Recalling that pivotal week, Lambright said, "The way I remember it, we didn't go home. I slept in the office at least two of those nights."
Years later, college defensive coordinators are still losing sleep.
Life in the SEC
Clearly, things are different down there. When's the last time an assistant football coach in the Pac-10 got canned after the first weekend in October, as Auburn's Tony Franklin was Wednesday by head man Tommy Tuberville?
Tuberville had banned Franklin from talking to the media since the Vanderbilt loss last week — he was apparently a bit too unpredictable and loquacious for Tuberville's tastes — but the firing was generally unforeseen.
Mobile Press-Register columnist Paul Finebaum had a pretty good finger on the pulse at Auburn, though, when he wrote of Tuberville the day before the firing: "The path of least resistance — which is the one most favored in his career — is to make Tony Franklin the fall guy. Cut him loose. This is Tuberville's style, evidenced by the fact Franklin is his fifth offensive coordinator in 10 years. He's had five on the defensive side, too."
You wonder whether this might be the final season for 81-year-old Joe Paterno at Penn State (although people have wondered about that for 15 years). His team is still undefeated, ranked No. 6, but it still seems to take a back seat to Paterno's health issues.
Each week brings the question of whether he'll coach on the sideline or in the press box after a fall-camp knee injury — incurred when he was simulating a placekicking motion.
He's refusing surgery for now, walking with a noticeable limp, and last week needed a podium to prop himself up as he wore unmatched shoes at a postgame news conference. Afterward, he slipped into a van that took him to a school private plane, which flew him home ahead of the team plane, the second time that's happened this year.
The end zone ...
• Why bother? In June Jones' debut season, SMU is rushing for 34.2 yards a game, last in Division I.
• Oklahoma still hasn't lost a fumble.
• Missouri, the least-penalized team in the nation, committed one at Nebraska, while the Huskers had 14.
• North Carolina linebacker Bruce Carter blocked three straight punts by Connecticut, and the last one Miami tried the week before.
• The two longest streaks of quarterbacks starting games could be in jeopardy. Purdue coach Joe Tiller has been critical of senior Curtis Painter (37 straight starts), and Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter (36) has a sprained ankle.
• Texas' only injury on its trip to Colorado last week came to coach Mack Brown's wife. She slipped on a mountain trail near Boulder, broke her arm and gashed her head.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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