Chris Petersen and Jimmy Lake’s statements were not completely unique.
And that, in itself, is saying something.
See if you can spot the consistencies between the Washington head coach and defensive coordinator’s descriptions of Hawaii’s run and shoot offense this week.
Petersen: “I think we’ve got a really good team coming in here, because it’s completely unique. That’s one thing: you don’t see it. They’re back to the run and shoot, which you don’t see a lot.”
Lake: “This offense is completely unique. We have not seen it since we’ve been here. This is the old school run and shoot offense, Houston Oilers, Warren Moon, back in the day. This is an explosive offense. They’ve played two Pac-12 teams and scored a bunch of points. Their quarterback’s got a big arm. They’ve got receivers that come off the line fast. This is a completely different animal that we have not faced, and it’s going to be an extreme challenge for our defense.”
Completely unique. There’s that phrase again. In this case, it warrants repeating, considering Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich has revived and modernized a college football relic — so far, with prolific results.
In season-opening wins over Pac-12 opponents Arizona and Oregon State, Hawaii has scored 76 points and passed for 857 yards and nine touchdowns. The Rainbow Warriors rank second nationally in passing touchdowns, third in pass attempts per game (50) and fourth in passing offense (428.5 yards per game).
So, what separates the run and shoot? Just that: separation. Receivers are granted the freedom to find it by adjusting to opposing defenses, altering routes to exploit a given coverage.
The play call, in this case, is little more than a suggestion — a starting point written in pencil.
“They route adjust,” Lake explained. “They basically will play the opposite of what you’re doing. If you’re playing on the inside, they’re going to break outside. It’s not just a designed route and they have to run the route right into the coverage.
“If you play deep, they’re going to go short. If you play short, they’re going deep. So it’s going to be kind of a back-and-forth of us disguising things and trying to trick them a little bit.”
Added UW offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan: “It stresses (defenses) out just because of the amount of options the receivers have in the pass game. So the route you see is not necessarily the route that’s called. It’s a little bit of a green grass philosophy. The route can go to the right, left, stop, go vertical.”
Thus far, Rainbow Warrior receivers have been finding an abundance of green grass. In the season-opening 45-38 win over Arizona, speedy senior Cedric Byrd II piled up 14 catches, 224 receiving yards and four touchdowns. And in last weekend’s 31-28 victory over Oregon State, senior JoJo Ward added 10 catches, 189 yards and four scores of his own.
So, yes, the same Husky secondary that surrendered 50 passing yards and an interference penalty in Cal’s game-winning 74-yard drive last weekend will be tested again on Saturday.
Myles Bryant is counting on it.
“I feel like that’s a DB’s paradise — a team that’s going to throw the ball and a team that’s going to take shots downfield, because now you’re going to get opportunities to go out there and make a play,” Washington’s senior safety said on Wednesday. “It’s all fun for the DBs when it comes to that.”
That’s why more teams don’t employ the run and shoot — because it yields unwanted opportunities. An offense predicated on route adjustments also suffers from predictable side effects: miscommunications, errant passes and, yes, interceptions. Redshirt junior quarterback Cole McDonald has thrown five of them through two games this season.
On the other side, Washington’s defense has yet to force a turnover through two games inside Husky Stadium.
If that doesn’t change on Saturday, a Mountain West program might just win the Pac-12.
“The challenge that these guys present is that they also run the football,” Lake said. “So if you think you’re just going to drop everybody and take away all their deep shots then they’re going to run the ball. They’ve run the ball very, very well these first two games.
“So this is a completely different scheme that we’re seeing this week. It obviously works. It’s 2-0 against the Pac-12 right now, and we have a difficult task at hand.”
Fortunately, the Washington defense isn’t running from difficult — or, in this case, “completely unique.”
Instead, it’s looking to take advantage of available opportunities.
“I just think the competition rises (against great passing teams),” said junior defensive back Elijah Molden. “When we have someone who throws for that much come into our house, we want to defend this turf. (Before last weekend) we hadn’t lost here in years, so now we want to set the tone over again and start fresh and get a couple turnovers.”