It is not surprising that a large contingent of Husky fans moonlight as fans of the World Champion Seattle Seahawks. You know those guys, right? The Seattle Seahawks? The team that just went out and laid an 80's style beat down on what was formerly known as the #1 offense in all of the National Football League?
Oh, yeah, those guys.
The relationship between the Seahawks and the Huskies has links that date all the way back to the formation of the Seattle franchise in 1976, but most of those can be traced to administrative connections moreso than coaching or player crossover. More recently, those connections have deepened. The Huskies played a year in the Seahawks home field while the new Husky Stadium was getting face-lifted. Relationships have spawned between players of both teams, including the documented mentorship between Russell Wilson and Keith Price. The number of players that have worn both uniforms has also multiplied, including, most recently, Jermaine Kearse - an undrafted WR out of Washington that not only caught a touchdown in last night's Super Bowl but also made the game-changing TD grab on a 4th and 7 play in the NFC Championship game that will now go down as Seattle's version of "The Catch" that was made so famous by Joe Montana and Dwight Clark.
It is these connections between the Seahawks and the Huskies - not the least of which is the overlap of the fan bases - that make it such a natural for us to seek out lessons that can be learned and applied in Montlake upon the conclusion of such an epically successful run from their SoDo counterparts. While one must always be sensitive to the differences that exist between the college and pro games, here are five critical lessons that I believe Chris Peteresen and Co. can take right back to their shiny new offices and implement as they prepare for the spring.
1. Defense Wins (National) Championships
Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame QB who has had a remarkable career and who is coming off a record-setting season in both yards passed and touchdowns thrown. He came into the game leading the NFL's #1 rated offense by just about any objective measure. He is the 2013 NFL MVP. Hell, he even set a new Super Bowl record for the number of completions thrown in a single contest.
None of it means anything when you put only 8 points up on the board.
More from the 'Pound
More from the 'Pound
The Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos last night and the credit for it goes not to some flashy, new-age offense but to a gritty, old-school defense. In executing their prey, they reminded us all that a fundamentally sound defense that is stocked with superior athletes compared to their opponent's offense and who have enough depth to rotate two levels of players on the front line have a decided advantage and can flat out win football games.
The Huskies, under the Steve Sarkisian era, have definitely attempted to restock their D with game changing players and superior athletes, but many have wondered if they have been aggressive enough in making sure that their most physically talented players get moved with a bias towards that side of the ball. Having elite athletes like Shaq Thompson and Marcus Peters on that side is definitely a start. However, UW would do well to continue to push their most elite of athletes to the defensive side of the ball, even if it hampers the development of the offense.
2. You Can Play Physical ... and Legal
In the Broncos first series (for all intents and purposes), they ran a passing play that led to their most physical wideout, Demaryius Thomas, getting absolutely blown up by Seahawks enforcer, Kam Chancellor in what was a tremendously explosive but clean hit. The emotion packed behind that hit set the tone for the level of aggressiveness that the rest of the Seahawks players (offense and defense) would play at for the remainder of the game and set a signal to Denver players that there were more bone-crushing hits to be absorbed should any of them try the middle of the field again. It was a turning point early in the game.
Chancellor and the Seahawks defense has been demonstrating all season that highly physical play can create a sustainable advantage. The emotional impact on both the players and the fans is usually patently obvious. However, the psychological and play-calling impact on the opponent's side of the ball is not always so. It is, nonetheless, ever present. For example, the Broncos receivers short-armed a few Peyton Manning passes later in the game no doubt due to the involuntary reflex of bracing to protect oneself from what the mind perceives as a clear and pending physical impact.
The Huskies have demonstrated a propensity for at least wanting to play a physical brand of football on both sides of the field. Players like Peters, Travis Feeney, Danny Shelton, Bishop Sankey, Sean Parker, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Chris Polk all have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to "stick their heads in there" and to initiate contact for purposes of establishing competitive advantages. The key for the Dawgs is to demonstrate an ability to play physical while keeping it clean. The Seahawks show that you can stick to the fundamentals - leading with shoulders versus helmets, hitting with arms out and wrapping versus down and tucking, and driving with your feet on the ground versus leaping into the air - and still establish the physical dominance that gives your team the edge it seeks no matter the playing conditions.
3. Field Position Matters
I admit that I haven't seen the stats yet, but it seemed that the Seahawks benefited from an average starting point advantage of at least 20 yards on their offensive possessions compared to the Broncos. It may actually be more if you take into account Percy Harvin's Kickoff Return for a TD. It is this kind of field position advantage that allows an offense whose QB nets just 206 yards and whose top RB rushes for less than 40 yards to still contribute 27 points of offensive scoring in a blow out victory.
For the Huskies, field position comes down to what happens on special teams, the generation of a reliable running game on offense and how effectively defenders can limit YAC against opponents on their way to creating some 3 and outs. The importance of these fundamentals were on full display last night in New Jersey.
4. Game Managing QBs > Multi-Threat QBs
With names like Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Johnny Football getting promoted by networks and conferences that are looking to maximize their exposure, it is no wonder that college football fans have become enamored with the multi-tool QB. The game has evolved to a one-read-then-run-it video game style of offensive football while less and less credence is being given to the QB who understands the fundamentals of footwork, passing lanes, progressions, protections and decision-making. Russell Wilson, despite only passing for 206 yards and rushing for 24 yards in the Super Bowl, had one of the most efficient games of his young career. In fact, there have been only five QBs in Super Bowl history that have completed 70% of their passes and thrown at least two TDs with no interceptions. All five won their games and four of them were the Super Bowl MVP (sorry Russell).
The moral of the story here is that it doesn't take a 100 yard rushing, 300 yard passing game from your QB to win games and advance to championships. Those things are nice - and they can certainly help to cover up some warts along the way - but it is the fundamentals that win the big games against the best opponents. The diminutive Wilson, despite having the legs to create big plays, used his athleticism to buy time and complete third down passes on his way to a Super Bowl victory last night and, in the process, recorded only four rushes the entire way. He is a great reminder that, while there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat, having an efficient and reliable game manager at QB still correlates with success.
5. It's Not All About the Stars (or Star Ratings)
I heard a stat cited by Pete Carroll following the game last night noting that 21 of the 53 roster spots on the Hawks's Super Bowl team were occupied by guys who went undrafted (could that be right?). I haven't been able to confirm that number (or, more correctly, haven't had time to look it up), but the point made in the observation is that, for the Seahawks, it isn't about the prestige of the player before he joins the roster as much as it is about what the player does with the opportunity presented to him. In Seattle, for every high draftee like Russell Okung or Earl Thomas, there is a corresponding low drafted/not drafted guy like Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor or UW's own Jermaine Kearse.
It is ironic that, as we head into Wednesday's National Signing Day, the average Husky fan is going to sweat the "average number of stars" recruiting into UW's program relative to those recruited into the Oregons, UCLAs and USCs of the world. Despite the fact that we relish the band of misfits occupying Qwest (Century Link, whatever) Field, we can't seem to get past the circular logic of star ratings that are derived in part from offer sheets amassed by PSAs being recruited to our schools. The Seahawks have taught us that the what happens once you pass that threshold is far more significant than whatever accolades you acquired before it when the goal is to play for championships.
So, those are my takeaways from last night's Super Bowl as I consider how our own Washington Huskies can internalize and use what they saw play out under the bright lights of NYC (NJ). What lessons did you take away? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.