Offensive Coordinator Keith Gilbertson - Part I

As I sit drinking coffee in his office on the west side of the Graves Annex building, I'm startled by how cheerful Offensive Coordinator Keith Gilbertson is when he greets me. He has a playbook under one arm, a cup of coffee in the opposite hand, and was all smiles as he motioned for me to sit down at a table covered with video tapes, all labeled "Ohio State defense."

I put my coffee down, shake his hand, and immediately point to the pile of tapes in front of us.

"They'll get your attention," says Gilbertson in deadpan fashion.

When I ask him what it will take to knock off the defending national champions, on the road, he just shakes his head and gives me his, "Why do you even ask me that question?" look.

"Obviously Ohio State is huge, but right now I'm more worried about us. I think there are some things that we really need to improve on. Basic fundamental things like being more aggressive, more vertical, and becoming more balanced. In some ways we had a remarkable year offensively and I think that gets lost in the fact that we went 7-6."

When you look at the numbers, the Huskies averaged over 30 points per game, were first in third-down conversions, first in fourth-down conversions, first in passing offense, and set offensive yardage records galore in 2002. However, most lament the lack of a rushing attack, including myself.

"I think of all the priorities of our offense this spring, number one is to make it more vertical. We need more verticality in what we do on both the run and the pass. Two years ago you and I sat in here and you asked me, ‘How come you can't throw the ball? After the Rose Bowl, you came in here and asked me what was wrong with the passing game," said Gilbertson with a slight smile.

"Something has to give."

And it was the rushing attack that gave.

"We probably would like to have been a better running team, and I know we'll be a better running team next year. It is certainly a priority, but at the same time you cannot forget that we are a FINE, FINE passing team. I don't want to give that up just because there is a calling from folks to become a better running team. I think we need more balance, obviously, but we'll do it right."

Balance is one thing, but Gilbertson makes one very good point about going about it the right way. "Dawgman, take a look at what we averaged in 1991 when we led the league in rushing, and take a look here at last year's Pac-10 leading rushing team, and tell me what you find."

As he left me to my research and to go get more coffee, what I found was that the Huskies averaged nearly 250 yards a game on the ground in 1991 using tailback by committee, and the best rushing team in the league last year was Oregon State, who rushed at a 148 yards-per-game clip. That's over 100 yards per game in difference.

Gilbertson returns to his office, and I share with him what I found. "The game has clearly changed."

He withholds the temptation to tell me "DUH", and sits back down.

"Defenses are doing things now to make it more difficult to run the football," said Gilbertson. "It's no secret. So, sure we want to be more balanced, but we'll do it the right way and not at the expense of something else."

"Overall, I'm excited to see us improve, and I think we've identified some things in the off-season that will help us. Our kids have had a good winter of conditioning, and it will be good to get these guys back on the field and coach ‘em. We'll miss Rich (Alexis), Brad (Vanneman), Joe (Toledo), and Todd (Bachert), but I'm excited to watch us grow."

NEW BLOOD

John Pettas will be Gilbertson's new quarterback coach and Dan Cozzetto will now be in charge of Gilby's offensive line. Both hires were met with Gilbertson's roaring approval.

"John returns to us after having been here in 2001. He's coached quarterbacks for years, and did that as well as coordinated the offense at Louisville last year. I'm really excited to work with John again, I enjoyed it two years ago. I thought we worked well, particularly up in the press box. It's fun to have him back.

"Dan Cozzetto is a guy that has been with me at Idaho. He's a quality offensive line coach and was the coordinator at Arizona State when they went to the Rose Bowl. This is a man who's a very successful coach, particularly up front."

"I think my familiarity with those two guys will help us a lot. The genesis of our system came from Idaho, or at least the basis of what we're doing here came from our time at Idaho. Dan was there, and John has run west coast offenses. There are a lot of similarities of what we've all done, and those guys bring some things that they've done in their past at other places that have been successful. We'll integrate that into what we do and make a better package."

Gilbertson adds, "We'll miss Ax (Steve Axman) and Brent (Myers), but I think our new guys really add some quality to our staff. They are replacing quality guys, so it's great to get them."

GENERAL GOALS FOR SPRING

"We need to identify a tailback, or tailbacks, this spring. We need to get real established there. Our second priority will be to rework our offensive line, which will be a little bit difficult because Todd Bachert and Brad Vanneman are going to miss most or all of spring football. There are two guys in our top 10 that aren't going to be there, so the question won't totally be answered until fall, but we'll get to work on it."

The other huge thing that Gilby wants to point to was the frequency of turnovers that Washington had last season. "During the month of October, that really sabotaged our season. People will tell you that we didn't run the ball and that's why we didn't win in October, but that isn't anywhere close to being the case. We turned the ball over in key games - Cal, UCLA, and USC to be exact. Regardless of whether you are fumbling the ball or throwing interceptions, you aren't going to win when you do that. That is what bit us. In September and November when we didn't turn it over, we were a pretty good offense. We didn't win because we were turning the ball over, that's the bottom line, and that will be a priority this spring."

Gilby's first rule of winning has always been to keep from losing, and nothing illustrates this better than looking at his statistic book, specifically at a couple of pages that he has earmarked for me. Looking at the turnover plus-minus in September, Washington was the best in the conference. After the UCLA game, the Huskies had dropped four spots.

"Some of that will go hand in hand with being able to run the ball, and to be more balanced, but especially to put the ball more vertical on both the run and the pass."

For a football coach, the term "vertical" means more yards per rushing or passing attempt. Thus, look for the Huskies rushing average to go up and for them to become more efficient on their throws.
END OF PART I. In Part II, Gilby runs down each position on the offense.

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