Coordinators keep game plans simple

SYRACUSE, NY - During the third quarter - during Washington's run of 21 unanswered points against the Syracuse Orange - UW Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano called off the Dawgs, so to speak. He closed the SU playbook and went vanilla. And why not?

"We still have some more," Lappano said after the 42-12 whitewashing. "In the second half, when we scored on the opening drive, I told Coach (Tyrone) Willingham that we didn't need to do some things. We practiced a lot, and we didn't get to the whole game plan. They tried to stop our option game on the edge, but we saw that all camp. Our defense did that to us every day. We anticipated that. They didn't do anything that took us out of what we wanted to do."

Lappano wasn't the only one. Washington Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer was able to bring in substitutions, and keep nearly all his pressure packages behind lock and key. "One of the worst things about a first game is that you just don't know what you're going to get," Baer said. "We watched every game last year, and each game they looked a little different. They ran about 75 percent of stuff that we hadn't even seen. We just played our defense and mixed it up with them a little bit and I thought we did a good job.

"We mixed it up with rushing three to help our secondary out and then rushed four and they had a hard time handling that. We pressured every once in a while, but we really didn't have to with the pass rush those guys gave us. We didn't back off things, but we just didn't show a lot of the pressures we had ready for the game because we didn't need to. When we get that nickel group out there, that's a lot of speed on the field."

Baer used the experience of his front four - Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Wilson Afoa, Jordan Reffett and Greyson Gunheim - to make things miserable for Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson. "We feel pretty good about those four guys that rush the passer, and we decided to see how much pressure we could get with just those four guys. We didn't want to put that pressure on the secondary. It kept working, so we kept staying with it."

Add defensive end Caesar Rayford to the mix, and the Huskies amassed seven sacks and held the SU run game to eight total yards on the ground.

"He's off to a great start," Baer said of the senior from Spanaway. "He did a heck of a job, and I'm pleased with him. That's a lot of speed coming off the edge with him, and Greyson too and Chris Stevens is a guy that can've got some guys that can really rush the passer."

Willingham told the press afterward that this is the most speed he's had at Washington since he took over the job, and the man is telling the truth. The Huskies really killed the Orange offensively with speed, speed and more speed on the edge, courtesy of Louis Rankin, Jake Locker and D'Andre Goodwin. "If you load up and try to take Louis out of the inside run, you have to deal with him on the perimeter," Lappano said. "And vise-versa. If you take him (Locker) away, Louis is going to be up the field. They compliment each other very well from a run-game standpoint.

"Louis Rankin has made a lot of great runs for this university the last couple of years. He's a good football player. We're not asking him to do things he can't do. He's a good back."

But it was the play of redshirt frosh Locker - making his first career start for Washington - that had Husky Nation in a collective tizzy. Rarely has play on the field matched, or even exceeded, expectations, but that's exactly what Locker did. He ran for 83 yards and scored twice, and he was 14-19 through the air for 142 yards, and no interceptions.

It didn't start out all peaches and cream for Locker, however. Two straight three-and-outs to start the game, and those wearing purple in the corner were scratching their heads. Lappano was never concerned. "We wanted to get to a run quick to settle him down," he said of the coaches' game plan to get Locker in his comfort zone. "He can obviously run the football. We had some bad down-and-distances there, but after that start I knew he would settle down and I just tried to put the game in his hands. As a play-caller, I really wanted to get those guys (Locker and Rankin) involved in the second series , and that's what we did. Those guys can make some plays. We have some other guys that can make some plays too. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty close to what we wanted to do."

And the beautiful part about the offensive game plan is that Lappano didn't have to put Locker in situations where he had to really stretch. "I didn't give him a chance to really go down the field," he said, for example. "It's not that we couldn't, it's just that we didn't need to. What we did was kind of take it and keep things underneath them, a lot of high-percentage throws. He was comfortable with that. It's what we did in the scrimmages and I know he liked that. We made a script he was comfortable with, because he's the guy that's got to play, not me. I always check with him. We get a list of what he likes, what he feels good about. I knew he would like the game plan because it was what we trained during the last couple of scrimmages."

Lappano knows what the talk of the town has been about. Jake as Jesus, Jake as the savior of the program...I'm sure he's heard them all. "To steal a Bill Parcels quote, let's not put the anointing oil on him (Locker) just yet," Lappano said. "All along we've known about his athleticism. He's got it. The game is not too big for him. It could have been, but not him. He's a focused young man, and he's focused on the right things. He's never let the hype get to him and that's why he played good tonight. He was focused on the game plan, he knew it and he went out there and had fun tonight."

Two other newcomers to the scene - Nate Williams and Vonzell McDowell - also had fun Friday night, but I'm sure it was also mixed with a strong dose of nerves. "We made a decision last week to get Nate involved in the starting nickel, and we made the decision on Vonzell a little over a week ago," Baer said. "I thought they were a little nervous. It's a long trip. You get here Wednesday night and you spend a couple of days in a hotel. Laying around that long, I get nervous. But for the most part, I thought they handled everything very well."

Williams, a safety, and McDowell, a cornerback, were forced into action when numbers in the secondary really dwindled at the end of fall camp. Baer knew he would be working with new material, so he did his best to employ a classic 'bend don't break' approach. "We never gave up a big one, and that's OK with me," Baer said of their play. "With as much zone as we played today, I just didn't want to do a whole lot with the corners. I just wanted them to get their feet wet, not put them in a lot of tough situations the first game."

Not only did neither coordinator have to put their newcomers in difficult spots, but they were able to utilize their strengths and keep the game plan simple - and small.

And that's a formula for success. Top Stories