With the dawning of a new season nigh upon us I find myself yearning to reflect on my preseason proclamation of our esteemed teacher and motivator, Coach Chris Petersen, as Don James incarnate on this Earth. With the passing of our Husky patriarch, the program is risen anew as the phoenix from the ashes with the acclaimed Chris Petersen. I previously posed the bold, yet veritably sane assertion that Chris Petersen’s semblance to Don James with respect to several salient aspects of the program suggests he will succeed in providing us, the Husky faithful, with prosperity not experienced since the tenure of our dearly departed. I acknowledge the audacity (if not recklessness) of anointing our Coach before he had even once exhorted the team onto the field of Husky Stadium on a sweltering summer Saturday or a crisp Autumn afternoon. I now revisit the lessons (with particular emphasis on a single facet) which we may discern from the first four contests of the Fall. I aim to vindicate in part my claims (of comparison) with my ramblings hence. Before reading further however, may I humbly redirect the reader to yon link below for the purpose of recollecting the prognostications to which I have thus far referred before continuing on to what I have gleaned since.
I want to start off highlighting a couple key points in passing before delving into some research I conducted on rush:pass ratios and my conclusions.
Firstly we have now seen Chris Peterson discipline in action. Our star defensive back was benched prior to facing a competent quarterback from a power conference foe for brainlessly inciting a penalty and a related lack of comportment on the sidelines. Actions that could have been chalked up to a fiery personality and a lesson learned were turned into a true teaching moment on discipline and standards. Other coaches, maybe our previous coach perhaps, would have let that slide in preference for a greater chance of victory. I don’t think anyone doubts that Chris Petersen took the Don James route.
One hallmark of Don James teams was toughness and playing to the end. Holding on against Hawaii to kill the clock in a close opener, never letting up against Eastern Washington, coming back against a half time shutout to the humble Georgia State are outcomes characterizing a tough team. Our past several coaches have had innumerable late game collapses and lost games they simply shouldn’t have. Their results more resembled those of Jim Walden than Don James. Sure, I recognize that once we stop playing patsies and B1G sisters of the poor we will have real validation and these results are merely suggestive, incapable of providing the affirmation we crave. Still, it’s a start. All along getting through the opening slate undefeated was the only goal. Let the team learn, install a system, and scoreboard, baby.
I had noticed that we were leaning heavily on our ability to run the ball thus far in the year and it just felt to me more like we were playing a Don James style of football. Maybe Cyler Miles hasn’t been the game manager behind mauling lines and the power running game we knew and loved, but we have seen a run-first offense that does not ask the quarterback to do more than he is capable of. To really compare I pulled up the statistics of offensive rushing yards/passing yards and offensive rushing attempts/passing attempts. My hypothesis was that we would see Petersen has had a rush to pass ratio at levels not seen since Don James. I was actually quite correct on that front but it didn’t tell the whole picture:
Coach:Avg. rush attempts/pass attempts of all seasons coached at UW:Avg. rush yards/pass yards of all seasons at UW
Don James: 1.89: 1.20
Jim Lambright: 1.62: 1.00
Rick Neuheisel: 1.23: 0.65
Keith Gilbertson: 0.99: 0.54
Tyrone Willingham: 1.20: 0.73
Steve Sarkisian: 1.18: 0.74
Chris Petersen: 2.06: 1.34
We can see that while most coaches actually averaged more rush attempts per season than passing attempts only Don James and Chris Petersen have averaged substantially more rushing yards than passing yards. So it is true that what we have seen thus far is similar to what Don James did in terms of play calling and results. To verify that these four games of data were representative of Chris Petersen’s track record I did the same same exercise for his career at Boise State and found
Chris Petersen BSU: 1.21: 0.70
WHAT? This is entirely inconsistent with what we have seen thus far. Chris Petersen’s history is nothing like Don James! It looks much more like Willingham and Sarkisian! Is this a fluke what we’re seeing this season?
Not at all.
I looked deeper into individual season stats and saw that Chris Petersen’s first year at Boise State closely resembled this season – the year he had former NFL RB Ian Johnson. The Kellen Moore years much more heavily favored passing. While Sarkisian and Willingham’s seasons typically had rush/pass ratios around 1.2±0.2, Petersen’s seasons vary much more drastically, ranging from 1.02 to 1.80 at BSU. Don James’ stats show a similar variance to Petersen’s when you break his seasons into pre-1989 and 1989+. After the 1988 season Don James’ recognized that what he was doing was not working anymore. The Huskies needed speed and a new offense. Don James told Keith Gilbertson “to take the chalk” and as All-Time Husky Great Wide Receiver Mario Bailey recalled “We just weren’t going to make it with the old offense”. “No way was it going to work. But once Coach Gilbertson arrived, everything changed”. (quotes Husky Football in the Don James Era by Derek Johnson pg 185)
Don James 1975-1988: 1.99: 1.26
Don James 1989-1992: 1.52: 1.01
Don James recognized that the old style wasn’t cutting it and he needed to adapt. Some Husky fans were questioning if Don James was the right guy prior to making these changes to the offense but Don James proved his legacy through this adaptation. One trademark tendency of Steve Sarkisian was to stick with a scheme even if it wasn’t working I don’t think we’ll see much of that under Petersen who has proven he will adapt to a situation to do what is most effective. The stats show Petersen will modify his strategy over time to do what works and on a small scale we saw Petersen utilize the personnel he had to rush to victory against Hawaii when the passing game was shut down.
I started with this research looking to show that Petersen’s offensive style was similar to that of Don James and instead found out something much more important – he has a critical trait that Don James had – the trait that led us to the national championship in 1991 – adaptability.