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Originally published August 17, 2013 at 6:07 PM | Page modified August 18, 2013 at 8:20 PM

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Huskies look to pick up the pace

The Huskies averaged 69.5 plays per game in 2012. This season, they want to average 12 more per game, up to about 82.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington coaches and players say their playbook hasn’t changed with the offense’s shift to a no-huddle, up-tempo offense.

What has changed for the Huskies?

Virtually everything else.

From the way they practice, to the way they call plays, to the way they substitute, to the way they recruit, the Huskies are in the midst of a philosophical makeover, with one overriding emphasis: speed.

The goals are obvious. They want to score more and, after three consecutive 7-6 seasons, win more games. How quickly can they make that happen? And, just as important, can the UW defense keep up?

As it is now, after two weeks of training camp, and with 13 days until the season opener against Boise State, the Huskies are moving faster than ever in practices. Yes, even Oregonesque at times.

And, for UW coach Steve Sarkisian, it’s still not quick enough.

Every day on the team practice scripts, given out to assistant coaches and staffers, Sarkisian writes “FASTER” across the top in big letters, using a highlighter for extra emphasis.

“We’ll pull back if the situation comes, but we’re going to go fast, fast and faster,” offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau said. “And then we want to go faster.”

The Huskies ran an average of 69.5 plays per game in 2012. This season, they want to average 12 more per game, up to about 82; by comparison, Arizona led the Pac-12 with 83.2 plays per game in 2012. Oregon was second at 81.5 plays per game.

During some practice situations, particularly in 7-on-7 drills that exclude linemen, UW senior quarterback Keith Price has been getting the snap within about 15 seconds after the end of the previous play. “Warp speed,” offensive-line coach Dan Cozzetto said.

Arizona ran a play every 18.8 seconds last season.

And yet there is a yin-and-yang element with an offense’s pace. Arizona was one extreme in 2012: The Wildcats’ defense was on the field more than any other Pac-12 defense last season, defended more plays and, predictably, ranked last in the conference in total defense, allowing 499.0 yards per game. (Only Colorado allowed more yards per play than the 5.98 Arizona’s defense gave up.)

The Wildcats finished with an 8-5 record in 2012.

Ultimately, if all goes as planned, UW will run more plays this season, but they’ll also, inevitably, defend more. Last season, the Huskies defended the fewest plays in the Pac-12, at 66.5 per game.

Finding a balance this year will be crucial for the Huskies, and for second-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

“No doubt,” Wilcox said. “It changes the game. It’s signaling, it’s communication, it’s subbing — having the ability to sub or not sub. The mechanics of how you install (plays), how you recruit, how you communicate on the field — all that. It really has changed a lot.”

At least eight teams on UW’s schedule this season are expected to run some element of a spread or up-tempo offense, and the thought is the UW defense should benefit from playing against that style in practice every day; the Huskies hope they will become better conditioned in physical fitness and in play recognition.

“It’s great to practice against. It doesn’t automatically mean we’re good at defending it,” Wilcox said. “You have to go out and execute. Just seeing something doesn’t make you good at playing it. I think it definitely helps, but you still have to finish plays.”

Depth, Wilcox agreed, becomes more important than ever.

“Run ’em in and run ’em out,” he said. “And the drop-off can’t be so significant because then it can be ugly. … The way our conference is built, you have to be able to play 16, 17, 18 guys — you have to play ’em.”

The Huskies, after two weeks of training camp, appear to have great depth at linebacker. Wilcox is still sorting out what he has and who fits where on the defensive line and in the secondary, particularly with regard to backups.

Depth takes on added significance everywhere for the Huskies. Kiesau, for example, said he plans to have a steady rotation of six or seven receivers; in the past, the rotation was usually just three or four.

“I think it’s a perfect fit,” Kiesau said of the offensive shift. “I really do.”

The season opener is quickly approaching. In 13 days, the Huskies will start to find out if he’s right.

Speeding it up
The Huskies will use a no-huddle offense this season, hoping to get off more offensive plays each game. The Pac-12 last season:
Team Plays per gameYards per play Points per game
Arizona83.26.3238.2
Oregon81.56.6049.6
UCLA78.25.9634.4
Arizona St.77.85.9738.4
Wash. St.73.04.9220.4
Oregon St.72.85.9232.5
Washington69.55.1124.0
Colorado69.14.3817.8
California68.15.7523.0
Stanford67.75.5327.9
Utah66.44.8826.7
USC65.66.6032.1

Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or ajude@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter: @a_jude

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