Through three games, we've seen Jonathan Smith's offense make use of many different personnel packages to fully utilize the different talents that Washington has on their roster. We've seen a four deep rotation of tight ends, some gadget plays to get talented playmakers like Chico McClatcher and Jaydon Mickens the ball in space, and a constant rotation of receivers and running backs in what appears to be the base offense. 11 different players have caught a pass and 10 different players tallied a carry, which is about average for teams in the Pac-12, if not on the lower end of the spectrum (though nowhere near Washington State's 4 different ball carriers, which is impressively low) so nothing seems out of ordinary with how they shuffle personnel on the surface.
The issue some fans are having is with one type of mass hockey-style substitution package that replaces Jake Browning with either Jeff Lindquist or K.J. Carta-Samuels, normally to run some sort of wildcat style play, straight out of the 2006 Arkansas playbook. Around the country, the wildcat formation/substitution isn't anywhere near as prevalent as it was even 5 years ago, partly because of it's gimmicky nature and partly because of its effectiveness, and partially because teams are embracing more dual threat style quarterbacks in starting roles, lessening the need for a special package of plays to install.
This isn't about the rest of the country though, this is about the Washington Huskies and whether or not you, reader/voter/commenter, think that they should keep running out the Jeff Lindquist/K.J. Carta-Samuels package.
The case for the packages
Utilization of talent
Both Lindquist and Carta-Samuels are very talented football players who both bring something unique to the table that Jake Browning doesn't. Lindquist is listed at 6'3" 245 lbs, and has a strong arm and solid mobility. He has shown he can run between the tackles, as well as throw downfield in the past, shifting the dimensions of the field and changing the defense's gameplan entirely. Carta-Samuels is a bit more of an unknown, as we only have his high school stats and maybe 10 collegiate snaps to go off of at this point, but it's not a stretch to say he has to have some talent or else these plays wouldn't be called.
So, you have two talented dual threat quarterbacks wearing headsets on the sideline all game, because you don't rotate quarterbacks like you do other positions, according to common football procedure and unwritten rules. Why not try and get them involved though? If you have six really talented receivers, it would be encouraged to rotate them and get them opportunities to create offense, but the status quo discourages using quarterbacks even sporadically for a change of pace. Instead of lining up a 245 pound battering ram on third and short when they know you're going to run, you should keep your lighter, less powerful quarterback out there, hand it off, and basically play 10-on-11. Situationally speaking, that doesn't make sense, and it seems counter-intuitive to balk at a potential strategic advantage because that's not how Bill Walsh coached football.
"What if they're wrong and you're right?"
From what we've seen, these packages aren't just personnel groups that go in there situationally, but also as a unpredictable curveball. The defense thinks they'll get Browning and instead, BOOM [read that in a John Madden voice if you didn't], there's Carta-Samuels and they're running a man in motion and you have to think on the spot about all of the possibilities, and in that second of thought, the offense strikes and they get instant offense. That's how they explain it at the conventions at least, where every idea sounds like it's going to reinvent how football is played. In all actuality, teams are likely prepared and if they aren't, they'll blow a precious timeout to get prepared.
Even if those things rarely happen, the thought of unpredictability is going to allocate resources in preparation away from your base offense and stretch the opponent's defense just a little bit thinner, which still could be the difference in a close game. It's often hard to quantify things in football, but if occasionally rolling a back-up quarterback out there takes up 10 minutes of their time on the practice field, that's still 10 minutes that they can't use to prepare for your starting quarterback and normal offense.
Just because these plays haven't actually worked well past the whiteboard or practice field doesn't mean they won't work on Saturday's. Something could have a 50% effectiveness rate and still not be effective three straight times without it being a great statistical anomaly. It's really a difference in mindsets derived from being results-based vs. being process-based, and in the game of football, chasing results won't get you as far as chasing a process will in the long run. We don't know how good an idea/play/formation will do in the field unless it is given the light of day and ample opportunity to showcase its effectiveness, and we can imply that it was effective in the lab (or on the practice field) by its existence as part of the playbook, as no smart coach keeps the plays that haven't shown success.
The least strategic reason on here, but maybe the most important. You don't want your back-up quarterback feeling disengaged or unimportant because they're second string. It doesn't bode well for you if they get moved up the depth chart because of an unforeseen injury and they haven't really been paying attention in film or on the practice field, and aren't as prepared as they could have been. Also, the thing we forget often, they've made close friends with teammates and them feeling down could lower the morale of some of your most important guys, who feel for their friend. In a perfect world, everyone understands that the coaches all have their livelihoods at stake and they're making decisions that are best for the team, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach when your roommate or best friend falls short of their dream. If getting them on the field for a half-dozen plays a game is all it takes to keep them upbeat, confident, and engaged, it might be worth it for that alone.
The case against the packages
The battle between an offense and a defense is constantly shifting, and an offense getting in rhythm can turn the tables in their favor and they can put up points in a hurry, all while breaking the will of a defense. That rhythm doesn't happen if you're making wholesale personnel swaps and putting a quarterback with a hot hand on the bench to run something entirely different, just to get it in. That's one of the dangers of installing these packages. When you install it, you feel obligated to run it and every time you look down the sideline, you see two giddy quarterbacks who are wondering when they're going to get their six snaps in to prove they deserve more. Instead of the focus being on how you're going to adapt your offensive attack based on how their defense is aligning, you're trying to manage these different packages and when to employ them. If they aren't there, you won't worry about them and your focus will solely be on your normal offense, which is paramount for success.
In football, often times you are your own worst enemy. You see things that are working and instead of going til the well is dry, you start to try and stay one step ahead of the opponent and move on to something else, to try and prove you're a mastermind or whatever. Instead of taking the easy money, you chase the holy grail and try to call the mythical perfect play, or in the case of these expanded packages, you go away from what's working for an unknown. On the inverse when things aren't going well, instead of showing faith and believing in your core unit, you'll try and jumpstart the offense by switching things up, hoping that the element of surprise will cover up for not being able to solve the much bigger issue of why your normal offense was falling short. You can jump start your Ferrari but if it's out of gas, you won't make it far. (I'm not very smart when it comes to cars, so please ignore this metaphor if cars don't work like that. It's more about the imagery, really.)
The biggest hindrance to rhythm is how long your core starters end up sitting on the sideline, getting cold mentally and physically. If your opponent has a long drive and then you follow it up with a quick three and out in your Wild-Dawg package, and then your opponent follows that up with another long drive, by the time your starters get back out there it could have been 25+ plays in which they sat on the sideline, just watching. From a physiological and psychological perspective, that is nowhere near ideal, and should really be avoided, especially in a colder game. In my opinion, time is the biggest reason why teams get out of rhythm. Instead of being in the moment, there's all that time to think, reflect, and plan/daydream, which aren't particularly useful when football is based around snap decision making. You can freeze out your own offense if you're not careful.
Effectiveness So Far
Sometimes, there's a reason things don't work the same on the field as they did on the index cards you drew the plays up on. So far, when Washington has switched quarterbacks, we've seen just that. A ton of "good ideas" that don't really move the ball or confuse the defense, since the amount of possibilities shrinks when you leave your base offense. They know that anything can come at anytime in your base offense, but that package of plays you have installed is shallow, and they know what's not coming. Sure, you don't know what will happen when either quarterback steps on the field, but by process of elimination you can kind of figure out what you won't see. Nobody runs out their fancy, look at us we're so smart, packages to run a quick passing attack on the perimeter, nor are they going to beat you with a fancy route combination, like a hi-lo with a backside dig. Everybody and their dog knows it's either a run or a simple pass, which means the defense can just run their base defense and play it straight up, and if you don't have the athletes to win by sheer force (and Darren McFadden and Tim Tebow won't be suiting up any Saturday soon) you aren't any better off than you were running your normal offense, which defeats the purpose. If it were a Disney movie sure, going to the backup goalie vs the tournament's leading scorer Gunnar Stahl is definitely the right move, but you aren't coach Bombay and Cal isn't Team Iceland. If your backups were good enough to win straight up, either your starters should be too or your backups shouldn't be your backups.
It Takes Away Snaps From Browning
A minor note, but one to still consider is how much the cumulative 50 or so offensive snaps (ballpark estimate) that you're taking away from a developing quarterback will hurt in the long run. Sometimes, you have to think a year or two down the road, and if you're doing that, you want the guy who came in as a true freshman and won the job to get every rep he possibly can to hopefully improve as much as he possibly can.