Sarkisian enjoying the Huskies’ new offense
Washington’s thrill-ride of an offense forces coach Steve Sarkisian to keep it simple and not overthink his offense.
Times staff columnist
The schedule makes it seem as if Washington has taken the longest season-opening victory bow in college football history. That’s merely the illusion of a Week 2 bye, however. In this new Huskies era of supersonic offense, they can’t even waste time reveling.
“I think we can tweak it to be faster and more efficient,” coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday, alluding to some of the work the Huskies did during the bye week to improve an up-tempo offense that put up 38 points and 592 yards against Boise State on Aug. 31.
Sarkisian is like a child obsessed with mastering a new video game. He’s not just thrilled with the early results of the faster pace. He’s so fascinated with it you figure he’s skipping meals and staying up all night just to play with his new toy. If he could fall asleep with the system tucked under his pillow, he would. The more he talks about the offense, the more excited he gets. It’s refreshing to see a coach lost in enthusiasm.
When Sarkisian first mentioned picking up the pace in the spring, I figured it was just an experiment to help his defense fare better against Pac-12 foes who employ up-tempo, spread offenses. I thought Sarkisian would stick with it until he got bored, or until the Huskies failed with it. And then he would return to his library of offense, take another book and try something else.
That’s the best and worst of Sark, right? The coach is a great student of the game who loves adding items to his thick playbook. But sometimes he’s paralyzed by his seemingly unlimited options.
At times, he would be a better offensive play-caller if he streamlined his approach and refrained from outthinking himself. How many times over the past five years has Sark publicly admitted a mistake because he didn’t keep it simple? While his candor and introspection are welcome, you craved more consistency from Sarkisian.
The best thing about this offense is that it forces Sark to be simple. He can’t outthink himself as much. He must preplan drives, trust his quarterback more and go with his gut in tight situations.
Over five years at Washington, Sarkisian has evolved from a strict believer in a rather generic prostyle system to a hybrid system that incorporates spread-offense concepts, power football, Air Raid and other cutting-edge schemes currently in college football. The Huskies are mixing it up while still doing what Sarkisian sells quarterbacks on in recruiting: He’ll make sure the offensive system prepares them for the NFL.
Sarkisian has been criticized for the many things he tries to do on offense. His greatest detractors have called him wishy-washy or too interested in showing off. But he’ll tell you the dueling philosophies were necessary to get the best out of players he inherited and to minimize weaknesses as he tried to build the program.
“I’ve always tried to tailor our offense to our personnel,” Sarkisian said. “When we got here, I was dead set on the prostyle offense. But we had a freak athlete in Jake Locker, and I would’ve been a fool not to do more with him. The next year, we didn’t have a tight end and had to work around that. The next year, we went back to a more prostyle approach. Last year, we got back to more spread principles and later worked in the power running game. Every year, you have to evolve to give the team a chance to be successful.”
This year, it’s apparent the Huskies are blessed with great depth at the offensive skilled positions. Sarkisian isn’t just following a national trend to speed it up. He’s also realizing that, with Keith Price’s instinctual brilliance and the stable of running backs, wide receivers and tight ends on this roster, he should ensure these players get as many opportunities as possible.
And for the coach who is a human almanac of offensive football, these tactics are helping him understand the meaning of the cliché “less is more.”
The Huskies still want to do a lot on offense. But when it’s time to call plays, Sarkisian’s call sheet is smaller. He can be creative in the game plan and creative in how he samples from various offensive styles and mixes them together. Consider him a coaching version of Kanye West. But during games, he has to let go more.
In the big picture, Sarkisian has done what you wondered if he could do: Revise the USC way and find his own way at Washington.
Sarkisian still has plenty to prove, but his work is intriguing again. The Huskies’ offense is a thrill ride again.
By doing less, Sarkisian just might prove more.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer
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