Coach's Corner

I talked with former Husky Lester Towns on the phone yesterday and told him how impressed I was with his team, the Carolina Panthers. Obviously, he was excited to be playing in the Super Bowl against Damon Huard's New England Patriots. He told me 15,000 fans met the team bus at the parking lot when they returned from Philadelphia.

The whole state has embraced a team that was 1-15 only a few years ago. Although we on the west coast rarely get to see them, the Panthers are an old school team.

Their win over the Eagles was an old fashioned grind-it-out win featuring an awesome running game that started out of an inverted wishbone attack. Add to that an "in your face" defense that simply went after Donovan McNabb until they finally knocked him out of the game. End of story.

The Panthers also committed no turnovers themselves while intercepting McNabb four times and constantly hitting him in the mouth. They combined the threat of attacking the quarterback with overload blitz looks that included physical bump and run coverage on the wide receivers. The results were devastating to the Eagle offense, and once Carolina took the lead, their running attack allowed them to eat up the clock up in big chunks.

Carolina threw less than 20 passes, and simply pounded the run at the Eagles with a two headed tailback.

DeShaun Foster, from UCLA, who Lester knew from college and high school, has come off the bench with fresh legs the last two weeks and been really effective in replacing an injured Steven Davis. Another Bruin, Ricky Manning, intercepted three passes because the pressure look forced McNabb to use hot routes. In simpler terms, McNabb rushed his throws because he was tired of getting hit and knocked on his butt. Following the bump, Manning often played underneath the receivers. He was therefore inside the receiver when the throw was made. Ty Law from the Patriots did the exact same thing and intercepted Payton Manning three times as well.

That "in your face bump and run" technique disrupts timing routes and usually means smaller windows for the quarterback to throw.

It boils down to the three things that seem to always help you win in football. They are essentially the three most significant elements of championship teams:
1) Play tough defense. Stop the run first and foremost, and then pressure the passer. Make the offense keep at least seven blockers in to protect the quarterback in a passing situation. Use disguise and don't be afraid to go one on one with wide outs. Never allow a quarterback to sit in the pocket and have time. Of course you have to mix it up with zones but always make them think that you are coming after their quarterback. Even if you're not going to go all out in a blitz, you have to at least threaten to hit their quarterback.
2) Run the ball successfully in the second half, when you have the lead. Run the ball, possess the ball, and eat up the clock. Don't allow the other team's offense to get on the field. Close down the dominoes board. Go get them by coming off the ball and running it down their throats.
3) Have a solid kicking game. You don't necessarily have to win this facet of the game, but you certainly cannot lose it nor have it cost you. This means no returns given up, no blocks against you, no missed snaps, drops, or kicks, and no stupid penalties during kicking game snaps. A good defensive kicking game always tries to pressure the kick. Of course, you have to have everyone covered but make them worry about your rush first.

The Super Bowl will be played next week by the two professional teams that did those three things the best. They had the best defenses, the best running games, and the most secure kicking games.

The Huskies will start moving in this direction this coming year. Gilbs has an obviously bright offensive mind but I really think the past few years he got away from the run first, pass second and reverse the order. Count on this - In 2004, the Huskies will run the ball the best they have in a long time. They will be among the best, if not the best, running team in the conference. They will bring back the option as an outside play and will really run the ball the best in second halves. Gilby will prove that his nickname of "The Round Mound of Ground" was not a misnomer.

The hiring of Chris Tormey, in itself, will help return the Huskies to the "attack style" defense. When I was coaching I sat in the press box with Torms and watched and helped him call defenses. He will bring so much knowledge and understanding of pressure to Phil Snow that it will only tighten the defense to the line of scrimmage.

Husky fans, get excited. Get VERY excited.

I watch Chris put in a defensive package and then call a marvelous game in the historic Husky win over Miami on the road. He had gone and studied with Dom Capers, a well respected pro coach, and put in a zone dog package that we really had never used before. Then we sat on it in our openers and saved it for Miami. After all, because we had copped a plea with the Pac-10 and NCAA, the Miami game was our bowl game. (What a shame for all those kids who played on those 1994-95 Husky teams. They always qualified for a bowl but were denied the chance to play one). When Torm-dawg used them against Dennis Erickson and the Hurricanes, it thoroughly confused them and not only did we continually hit their quarterback, but we dropped into coverage and intercepted them three times.

The hiring of Scott Pelluer last summer by Gilbs had an immediate impact on solidifying the anemic Husky kicking game. The Huskies gave up way too many blocks over the past few years and never got any of their own. Pelluer was the perfect man for Gilb's first hire because not only did he solidify the kicking game, but he also ended up being one of the most significant recruiters in what appears to be the best recruiting class in almost a decade.

Lester Towns is proud to be representing the Huskies in the Super Bowl. His team got there just like the Huskies of a decade ago did. It was during that great run of the early 90's that Towns, then a high schooler in California, first caught the eye of none other than Husky coach Chris Tormey. Lester loved the way the Huskies played and lived right there in Pasadena. He watched the enthusiastic Husky fans go by his neighborhood for three straight years. He loved the style of defense and by the time he got to High School he wanted to be a Dawg.

That, Husky fans, is how it works.

By Lester's junior year, Tormey had really done a great job of recruiting him and when Chris left to become the head coach at Idaho, I took over and he's been like a son to me ever since. He calls me "Pops" and I will always be thankful of our special relationship. I could not be prouder of his opportunity to play in the biggest game of all. Just like I was for Lawyer, Ernie, Mark, Benji and all of the other Huskies who have gotten that chance of a lifetime.

This year, the Super Bowl will feature smash mouth, and in your face. It still works after all of these years.

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