- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
From Seattle to southern California and from Salt Lake City to Missoula, western teams are readying themselves for what, it now appears, may be their finest hour. Last season, the Athletic Association of Western Universities came of age in the Rose Bowl when the University of Washington stormed over Wisconsin, the Big Ten Champion, 44-8. Washington may have a better team than last year's, but it also may not return to the Bowl. Both Southern California and UCLA may be strong enough this year to beat the Huskies. And not far behind these three are the other schools from the old Pacific Coast Conference—Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State. It has been rumored that the last three will not be alone for long. Utah, Brigham Young and New Mexico are said to be planning to slip off from the Skyline Conference to form a new league, which will include not only them, but Arizona and Arizona State of the Border Conference. Wyoming, the champion, apparently will go it alone as a strong western independent.
Whatever happens, it will not take a seismograph reading to understand the size and scope of the tremors. There are many more players in the West than ever before. The schools with their handsome campuses attract boys from far away. The only real question in the region now is this: What kind of strong football are the teams going to play? Unlike teams in any other section of the country, the western clubs will play as many kinds of football as there are head coaches. The five coaches of the AAWU, for instance—Stanford's Jack Curtice, California's Marv Levy, UCLA's Bill Barnes, Washington's Jim Owens and USC's John McKay-favor five different patterns of offense. UCLA has the Tennessee single wing off a balanced line, which is well suited to quick opening plays. Washington uses the multiple offense off the T formation, favoring splits. USC's offense is a combination of the wing T and the pro T, and under new Coach John McKay, the Trojans should throw more than they have in the past and run wider. Stanford has the pro T with flanker backs and ends, which is a delight to a pass-minded quarterback. Curtice is experimenting with the multiple offense too, and may incorporate it, or a variation of it, in his Stanford attack.
"I've had multiple formation, in a manner of speaking, for many years," Curtice said not long ago. "The idea in the multiple offense is to get the other guy to go to sleep. Make him think this one isn't headed for him. Now, you take those Washington Huskies—they had 14, maybe-more formations last season, but they used only six plays. They had one tight end and one split end, but when they came out of whatever formation they were in, they went for the quick toss, the cross buck and the trap. Hey, listen, if we only had some fast backs at Stanford we'd really show them an offense."
At California, Coach Marv Levy who is new to the league but is fast learning its frankness, also bemoans the lack of fast backs. But he adds tackles, guards and centers to the list of the missing. His strategy will be to go for the quick touchdown. Says Levy, "We stress the long gainer rather than ball control. We've got to because we can't even run 15 consecutive plays in signal drill without making a mistake that would probably stop us."
One coach who does have fast backs is Jim Owens, and his professional brothers are awaiting his latest Washington product with an anxious mixture of interest and dread. They expect that Owens will multiply his already multiple offense, and Owens has hinted that he won't disappoint his colleagues. This may, of course, only be Owens' way of "psyching" the opposition. Just as Lou Burdette keeps the myth of his spitball alive—or is it a myth?—Owens may be nursing a multiple-offense legend. He will say only that he expects more offense this year because of the wild card rule, which allows for freer substitution. "We'll push more offensive stuff into quarterbacks," he said recently. "The defenses have reached a point where you've got to fool 'em to move the ball. There has to be an element of surprise when you come out of the huddle—otherwise that week you spend polishing your play is wasted. Although one day I could go too far and smorgasbord myself right out of a job."
Not only do the coaches of the 2-year-old AAWU have dramatically different offensive thoughts; they also must succeed in spite of as many different problems. California, with its high entrance requirements and consequent limitations, has a far different concept of athletics in higher education than do athletic-dominated schools like USC. Yet, athletic prestige is important to Cal, and it expects Coach Levy to be successful in spite of an academic attitude that often robs him of the successful players. USC and UCLA call the 101,526-seat Memorial Coliseum home, as do two other teams—the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers. In this, the largest stadium in the country, the two college coaches—Bill Barnes and John McKay—must suffer having their teams' ingenuity and development compared not only with each other but also with the more resourceful professionals. The weather too intrudes on the coaching quiet. In September and October the floor of the Coliseum is a 100� football inferno, and the players are further plagued by the smog that fouls their lungs and blinds their eyes. In Seattle the frequent rains require that football players, like race horses, be good mudders. Only in Berkeley and Palo Alto is the weather near perfect, and Jack Curtice and Marv Levy would gladly trade their good weather for more good players.
Critics of western football insist that it is this very preoccupation with offense that hurts the teams. They point to Stanford, which last year had Quarterback Dick Norman, who led the nation in total offense, Fullback Skip Face, who was the second highest scorer in the country, and End Chris Burford, who was the leading pass receiver. Stanford still lost more than two games for every one it won, and it lost all four conference games.
Stanford, however, is not typical of the new style of Pacific Coast play. Washington allowed fewer than seven points a game last year. Wyoming and USC were fifth and seventh in the national total defense ratings. And Oregon, ever since Coach Len Casanova came to Eugene nine years ago, has been diligently defensive. To Casanova, defending is like playing a game of chess. "The defense is always trying to catch up to the offense," he says. "Take pass defense—you may really have your men three-deep, but you do your best to make it look like they're only two-deep, or if it's two-deep you make it look as if it were three."
"Agility and pursuit are the big changes in the game," says Jack Roche, assistant to Casanova. "They have taken the long-scoring run out of football. Not too many years ago this was a game of might. Now if a ball carrier gets away, everyone is after him and someone is bound to catch him. That's what we stress—pursuit—and we have done right well with it. In the past three years only two touchdown runs of 30 or more yards have been scored against us."
Meanwhile, back in the mountain country the young, ambitious coaches of the Skyline Conference have been in a recruiting frenzy. Says Wyoming Coach Bob Devaney, "That's the biggest part of coaching, and the coach that doesn't take recruiting seriously winds up behind the eight ball."