Shaq at Running Back, and Winning Ugly

I know this is going to come across as breaking news to absolutely no one out there, but it needs to be said anyways: Shaq Thompson is good at playing tackle football. As I was watching the first quarter or so on Saturday against the Buffaloes of Colorado I noticed a great deal of people  on twitter and on Hardcore Husky freaking the hell out about the fact that Shaq was not playing on defense. They mentioned how if we put him back on defense we would be playing better on defense. Well thanks for that, guys. Sometimes I forget that putting a really good player on defense will make the defense better. Having a player that is so talented that he can play both ways and make a great impact on both sides of the ball is not some burden; it is a gift for this staff and is a great thing!

Here's the reality: Shaq Thompson is currently more valuable to this team on offense than he is on defense. There really is no decision to make, he should be playing offense for the rest of the year. The drop off from linebacker Shaq to the backup linebacker is not as great as the drop off from running back Shaq to the backup running back. The sum of the defense without Shaq is still a pretty solid defense. You have Marcus Peters, Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton still out on the field making life difficult for the offense regardless of whether Shaq is playing or not. On offense however, when Shaq is out you are left with a pretty lackluster group of talent to try to move the ball.

Shaq also makes the offense around him better when he is playing full-time running back. We were able to see that on a couple plays this past weekend against CU. On the first drive of the second half UW ran the ball with Shaq on a read for a short gain of three yards. They hurried up for the next play and showed the same read look but this time Cyler did a great job of reading the defense and he fired the ball off quickly to Josh Perkins down the seam for a gain of 28 yards. The Linebacker bit forward on that play trying to stop the run which allowed that big gain to happen. Four plays later the UW would scored a touchdown if not for a fumble at the one yard line.

The touchdown to OKG Dante Pettis was also influenced by our run game. UW hit Colorado with a pop pass on that play. Basically it is the modern version of the triple-option and it is a real pain in the ass to defend. In the backfield Cyler is running a read option, the defense is focused on having to stop either the handoff or Cyler running on his own. Meanwhile, on the edge, Dante Pettis is just kind of running along not really blocking but then he bursts up field after a second or two and runs deep down the sideline. When Cyler doesn’t hand the ball off and comes running down the line he has the option to keep and run or hit Pettis over the top for a big play. It puts a huge weight on the corner and safety and we saw the positive results a play like that can create. All this was made possible by the threat of the run.

So instead of complaining about Shaq not playing defense, I urge everyone to appreciate the fact that we are getting to watch a truly special player play football. Regardless of where he is playing he is giving us a chance to win football games, and right now the best spot for him to be is on offense.

Speaking of winning, that is what UW did on Saturday. I think one thing I need to come to grips with this year is that it is going to be really difficult for UW to win style points. When you are as deficient as UW is on one side of the ball nothing will come easy for you and you will need to manage games all the way to the end. I thought the defense exemplified this tactic really well on the last drive for Colorado on Saturday. Going into that drive UW had all the advantage in the game, they were up 38-23 and there was 8:21 left in the game. Colorado would have to score two touchdowns with one of those touchdowns also needing a 2-point conversion to even tie the game. Here is how the Colorado drive went from a yards by play perspective: 17, 3,-1,7, 2, -4, 6, 9, 2, 4, 6, 18, -2, 12, 0, 7, 0, -5. Colorado ran 18 plays, went 66 yards, wasted 6:29 and had nothing to show for it. Even if they had scored a touchdown they would have had about 1:45 left with no timeouts needing to score a touchdown and go for two. The defense managed the game at the end. It might not have been pretty, and sure it would have been nice to get them off the field, but going into that drive UW had all the advantages and they came out with the win.

I heard Bill Belichik (SPELLING?) at his press conference today get asked about the stats in the win, he responded with the following which I thought was appropriate for this article: “I don’t care about stats, we won the game. This isn’t a fantasy team where I care about stats, all that matters is winning the game.”

Prediction for this week: UCLA 25 UW 11