Spotlight on Spurrier

Steve Spurrier has five preseason games to convert the Redskins from a conservative, close to the vest offensive team that they were last year into the wide-open unit that he envisions them being. The players have to get the reads and timing down against real competition. So let's take a deeper look in this first of many Spotlight on Spurrier columns.

Going in:

He does not have the luxury that his counterpart on the other sideline, Steve Mariucci, enjoys coaching an established team that won 12 games in 2001. The teams meet in the third game of the season and Mariucci plans on showing very little of his playbook. "You don't reveal everything you have when you've got to play the same team again in a real game three weeks later," he said. Mariucci stated that he will not show anything that Spurrier would not already have seen on film from last year.

At Redskin Park, of course, last year's playbook was placed in the circular file immediately upon Spurrier's arrival. "I don't think he'll hold anything back," said San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia.

Spurrier said as much when asked: "No, we're not going to line up in the 'I' formation, toss it right and run it up the middle,'' Spurrier said. "We're going to try to give our players a chance to make some plays."

The Game:

From the second quarter on, the Fun and Gun offense was productive, but the beginning was shaky, to say the least.

Spurrier stayed true to his word; the Skins came out throwing. The first two plays were short Sage Rosenfels passes, both incomplete. On third and ten, Sage threw one that was beyond the first down marker but the Niners intercepted it. The inexperienced Rosenfels was obviously tight.

The coach called a run on first down on the Skins' next possession and Rosenfels calmed down found his stride. He completed his next two passes with some zing and confidence. Two rushing attempts after that, though, failed to get the first down and the Redskins punted.

After another three and out, it started to click. Derrius Thompson got wide open for a 63-yard TD pass. On the next possession, the Ballcoach started to get things going. On a first down play, the Skins lined up with three wide receivers and the fullback went in motion to create a fourth wide. The subsequent pass was incomplete, but the seeds were planted.

The attention to the players lined up wide opened up things for the tight end. Rookie Robert Royal was the beneficiary. He caught one Rosenfels pass for a first down on a delay pattern to the outside. On the next play from the San Francisco 10, he lined up just outside the tackle on the left hash mark, ran straight ahead, turned around in the end zone, and caught Rosenfels' pass for the touchdown.

In the second half, we got a chance to see Spurrier's teaching in action. Former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel came into the game and put on a clinic of the Fun and Gun. Calling audibles, making hand signals, throwing with nice touch, Wuerffel moved the Skins right downfield for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead.

When asked about Wuerffel's chances of thriving in the NFL, Spurrier said that he saw Wuerffel play pretty well in college and the coach's former star showed that again on the next series. Twice he improvised throws under pressure, both of the chucks going to backs for first downs. Niner defensive back Mike Rumph made a couple of good plays at the goal line and the Redskins had to settle for a field goal to go up 24-7.

Spurrier faced his initial fourth-down decision early in the fourth quarter when the Redskins had fourth and a full yard to go at the San Francisco 31. The call was to go for it all and, after a time out, it paid off as Wuerffel threw a strike to Thompson for a 31-7 lead.

The Key Numbers:

Those who watched hoping for an aerial circus were not disappointed. The Redskins gained almost ten times as much yardage through the air as on the ground (434 passing, 45 rushing). The play calling also was unbalanced, 45 passes and 21 runs. The rush attempts averaged 2.1 yards a pop and the passes gained 9.6 yards per attempt.

One wonders what Spurrier would have done with a 31-7 fourth-quarter lead during the regular season; would he continue passing as he did here or would he run the ball to chew up the clock? Time will tell, but if his past at Florida is any indication he played this one exactly as he would when it counted.

The Redskins punted just twice and the line gave up just one sack.

Quotes from the Ballcoach:

"We were probably more into it than the Niners. We had a little more to prove than they did. They're a team that won 12 games last year. We're trying to earn our stripes a little bit more."

"Winning and losing, nobody's going to give a darn five weeks from now. But tonight there's a winner and a loser, and we're going home a winner."

On the sidelines:

Spurrier did not don his trademark visor at all during the game. Unlike many NFL head coaches on the sideline, he did not keep his headset glued to his heads. At times it was either slung around his neck or off completely.

It's not as though he would have needed the visor to throw at any point to express displeasure, given the performance of the offense.


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