Banked Reps Wanting As Huskies Hunt For Bear

Looking at the pre-season schedule, Washington fans had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. If the Huskies could get through the initial Pac-12 Conference game at home versus Stanford, only California stood in the way of a 6-0 record heading into a clash with Oregon in Eugene October 18th.

Now, following a 20-13 loss to the Cardinal and a week to reflect on what could have been, the Huskies have a totally different task in front of them. Instead of challenging Stanford's offense in a phone booth, Washington will have to try and defend a California offense intent on using the whole area code.

"(Cal QB Jared) Goff threw seven touchdown passes last week, national player of the week - those guys can throw the ball," Washington Linebackers Coach Bob Gregory said. "We’ll probably see more of that than what we see of the Stanford kind of offense.”

It seems completely counterintuitive that a 1-11 California Golden Bears team last year could be in better shape heading into 2014 than the 9-4 Washington Huskies, but the Bears are 3-1 and flying high after a 59-56 overtime win versus Colorado, while the 4-1 Dawgs are licking their wounds a little bit after getting beat up by the number-one defense in the country. Washington has a better overall record but heads into their BYE week with more questions than answers so far through five games. That's why they are practicing this week with the intention of focusing on the fundamentals and also getting the youngsters some scrimmage time to keep them motivated and on track.

Meanwhile, it's pretty easy to figure out who California is; a high-flying air attack with a ground game you have to respect on offense, while still a complete liability on the other side of the ball. Defensively, the Bears were so poor last year they couldn't help but improve dramatically - and they have, to the tune of over 50 yards a game. But they still are really poor on defense.

If this October 11 tilt had been played after Washington's 59-52 fireworks show of a win over Eastern Washington, we'd know exactly what the Washington-Cal game would be all about; more pyrotechnics and an aerial display for the ages. In fact, passing records are running for cover this weekend in the Palouse when Cal travels to Washington State in a game that may last seven hours before someone wins.

But UW's offense really hit a snag versus Stanford, and it's hard to know if they'll recover in time to take apart a California defense seemingly ripe for the picking. It starts along the offensive line. With the entire offensive line returning from 2013, it would have been easy to pencil the Huskies' OL as a major strength of the team, but they have suffered a bit through injury and some growing pains with new offensive line coach Chris Strausser. Last year's center Mike Criste hasn't seen many snaps at all this year, and instead of adjusting the seniors around to take advantage of their experience and game time, Strausser has gone with pushing younger guys forward, like right tackle Coleman Shelton.

“They aren’t experienced with me," Strausser said when asked about utilizing as many veterans as he can along the line. "I’ve been with these guys on a football field eleven weeks, or whatever it’s been, between fall camp and spring ball. They aren’t experienced guys necessarily with me. They’ve played a lot of football here, but we’re just trying to get the best combination we can out there right now, and trying to find a way to play more consistent.”

What was expected to be a smooth transition offensively from Dan Cozzetto to Chris Strausser has seemingly been anything but. It goes to the heart of what Gregory calls 'banked reps', or pulling from a vast reservoir of experience between coaching staff and player groups to take advantage of that knowledge base to quickly adjust - thereby staying one step ahead of the competition.

"There’s no ‘banked’ reps for these guys," said Gregory. "Every day is a new day; it’s not like we can pull something out, hey do you remember guys last year we did this…we’ll add a wrinkle here and there, but it’s not going to be much. Really this week for us is a big fundamental week, get them back to basics.”

So what is the offense looking to do during the bye week in an attempt to create an archive of understanding between coaches and players that they can go to in a pinch? “Just the details," said Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith. "Let’s take for example, a pass concept. This is how we should be looking at it after five weeks; we went back, started looking back at those last couple days and see what we’re doing. So have we emphasized those coaching details enough? That’s really what we’re doing. And with a pass pattern, is this a poor play? Or are we just not executing it very well? Then we’re going back and forth on each play like that.”

What the Huskies are doing now mirrors in so many ways the struggles first-year head coach Sonny Dykes suffered through with his guys in Berkeley. Obviously Chris Petersen has a much better record overall in his first year than Dykes in 2013, but what Pac-12 fans are seeing now from the Golden Bears is the residue from all the hard work and lumps taken as a group this past season. That pool of plays that Goff and company worked on have now become the foundation for the high-flying act we've seen from the California offense so far this year.

That's what Smith is trying to do with this year's Huskies - create a foundation of plays and concepts with the players they have now, led by sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles, that will become the knowledge base for the offense moving forward. It's clearly coming at a cost, and just one more part of Petersen's process that appears to eschew short term results for long term, high level sustainability - but perhaps Washington fans can look to what California is doing in their second year under Dykes and what can be accomplished from year one to year two with reps 'in the bank' - especially when it comes to running an offense and breaking in a new quarterback.


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