The University of Washington lured Steve Sarkisian away from Southern California to fix a broken Husky program in 2009. Sarkisian made no bones about whose offense it was going to be in Montlake, even though as the Head Coach he is to be judged by the overall success of the program.
With his experience and success as offensive coordinator at USC, he figured the best blueprint for success was to focus on the offense, and hand the defense off to a trusted assistant, in this case Nick Holt. Whether Holt was the best choice at DC is another argument for another post.
So, how has Sarkisian done with the Huskies offense?
Since we are only three games into the season, and the NCAA Stats website does actually break down per week, that is how we will compare both the Huskies offense and the opponents defense.
Going into 2009 Washington was coming off an epically bad season in general, and especially on offense where Washington managed to put up 17 points a game in 2008. So in that sense it is worth going back to the 2007 numbers to start the comparison.
Willingham's 2007 team was a rush heavy offense that was led by Jake Locker's 89 yards per game, putting up 192 yards a game total on the ground. The passing numbers, predictably with having Locker used mostly like a running back, were low at 185 yards a game. The offense put up 26 points per game Without Locker in 2008 Washington saw an improvement in passing offense, putting up 200 yards a game, but only managed an embarrassing 105 yards per game on the ground.
The start of the 2009 season, and the Sarkisian era was brutal in terms of schedule. Hosting both LSU and Southern California in your first three games is not generally a receipt for success,but the Huskies managed to start 2-1, pulling off the huge upset of USC.
Sarkisian's offense managed a 27 point per game averaged, raised by the 42 point performance against the Idaho game that was sandwiched between the big boys, but a team should have a cup-cake OOC game in general so that isn't really a negative.
The offense after three games ranked 56th overall with an average of 111 yards rushing, and passing for an average of 270 yards. Chris Polk led the ground attack with 80 yards a game, and Jake Locker averaged 270 yards through the air. The 27 points per game average ranked 65th in the country.
Considering the transition from an offense that featured Jake Locker running, followed by more Locker running, it isn't surprising that there was a huge drop off on rushing numbers, as well as corresponding jump in the passing game.
Fitting for the brutal, if by name recognition alone, schedule of 2009, it was also the year that two of the three games were against top 30 scoring defenses. By the end of the season both LSU and USC were still ranked in the top 22 of scoring defenses, while Idaho dropped to near the bottom of division one. Washington's scoring average held fairly solid at 26 points per game by the end of the season.
Going into 2010 there were huge expectations for the Huskies offense, and Jake Locker in particular. Washington's schedule was not as brutal on paper as the 2009 season, however, the Huskies managed another 1-2 start when facing BYU, Syracuse, and Nebraska.
Locker finished the 2009 season with a flurry of offense activity, so when UW started out putting up only 17 points on the road against BYU, there were plenty of raised eyebrows.
The offense did not drop off much in points per game from 2009, ranking 72nd and only dropping to 26 per game, but the biggest difference was the margin that the Huskies gave up in those three games.
Similar to 2009, Washington's numbers are boosted by a 42 point performance at Syracuse, who in retrospect was a stronger opponent than Idaho the year before Washington saw a boost in rushing production, averaging 159 yards a game, but saw a drop in their passing numbers at 209. Like in 2009, the Polk and Locker were the leaders for those respective categories.
By the end of the 2010 season the Huskies three out of conference opponents were all in the top 25 for scoring defense. At the end of week three, however, only one of them ranked in the top 25 at all. Sarkisian's offense suffered a drop in scoring by the end the season, falling to 21 points a game.
The Huskies offense shifted focus as the season went on, and by years end was averaging 172 yards a game on the ground, but only 190 through the air. Unlike in 2007, however, Locker was only averaging 32 yards per game compared to his 82 in 2007.
Heading into this season the biggest question was, of course, how will Washington EVER survive without Jake Locker? Turns out, just fine thank you. For the first time in the Sarkisian era the Huskies started off with only one team that looked to over-match them.
Predictably Washington has produced better numbers starting the 2011 season, averaging 36 points per game.
The offense started slow against Eastern Washington, but has excelled against Hawaii and Nebraska. The most surprising part is the lowest scoring total was against that Eastern team, and that UW put up 38 on Nebraska in Lincoln.
Polk and the Washington running attack felt the loss of Jake Locker, but not by much, as the Huskies managed to put up 148 yards a game on the ground, ranking 65th in the country. Polk averaged the lions share with 120 yards a game.
The biggest question mark going into the season was if Keith Price was going to be able to utilize the the weapons around him. Through three games the answer has been a resounding YES, averaging 230 yards a game through the air, with 11 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Those 230 yards through the air put Washington at 59th in the country for passing yards per game. Price started slow only passing for 102 yards against Eastern, but followed that up with 315 and 274 yard performances.
So far Washington has faced a division 2 defense, and the 60th and 67th respective scoring defenses. It is obviously hard to judge whether those defense will improve as the season progresses or not. One would think the "blackshirt" defense of Nebraska would improve tremendously.
The 2011 has produced Sarkisian's best offensive numbers to date, as well his best start at 2-1. You can see steady improvement in balancing a power running attack with a potent passing game, and as he starts to get the type of players he envisions into the system into the Purple and Gold the offense is going to continue to improve.
The rushing numbers may be down from 2010, but the attack is just as potent and a little more traditional without Locker adding quarterback draws to the rushing numbers. In Price Washington may not be able to duplicate Locker's rushing attributes, but what we do have is an efficient and very accurate quarterback who understand exactly what Sarkisian envisions out of his offense.
This 2011 offense is young in a lot of places, but the talent on offense in undeniable. As those young play-makers continue to grow, so will the offense. Which is good, considering how many points the defense has been giving up, winning shootouts might be a prerequisite to a second strait bowl game.