Expect big things from the offensive side of the football for PSU this year. A decision to employ the use of the shotgun coupled with the cohesion that has already developed in spring practice has head coach Tim Walsh excited.
“We’re looking good. We tried this once before and it wasn’t too successful and we had to shelve it. But we’ve been working hard to get it down and it’s going well,” Walsh said.
While the Vikings, who went 7-4 in 2004, will not be fully transforming into a wide open, West Coast offense, the changes will be noticeable.
“It’s all about timing,” declared Walsh. “We will be more versatile. We’ll have the ability to air it out on every down but we also might just use it 10-12 times a game. It will all depend on how things are going in each particular scenario.”
Junior quarterback Sawyer Smith, who has spent the last few months working diligently with his center, backs and wide receivers, will lead the offense. Smith hopes to nail down the timing that is so essential to a shotgun style passing offense, and feels like everything is pointing in the right direction.
“It’s going good,” Smith said. “We’ve been working all spring and all summer. We wanted to be able to come into this summer session tight, with everything down, so that we can focus on the small things and make sure that our steps are correct.”
With the Viks’ decision to utilize the shotgun, the steps that Smith takes in the pocket and that his wide receivers cut on while running their routes will be the determining factor in just how efficient the passing game is.
Coach Walsh concurred, “We clocked it out and figured that the timing is basically the same. It takes as long for a quarterback to receive the ball from center, drop back and throw, as it does for the ball to reach the quarterback from the shotgun position.”
The relationship between Smith and his center, senior Antonio Narcisse – who was just selected first team preseason All-American by both Street & Smith and The Sports Network – will be a key for PSU. Both Smith and Walsh proudly stated that the quarterback and center had been taking snaps together the entire summer and confirmed that all signs are pointing in the right direction.
“We’ve been out there practicing three times a week all summer long,” Smith said.
Perhaps the biggest question that the offensive change brings up is how the running game will be affected. Last year PSU led the Big Sky Conference in rushing. This year, senior running back Joe Rubin and senior full back Allen Kennett – a second team preseason All-American – lead a unit that is looking to build on its success from last year. Kennett led the team with 10 touchdowns in 2004, nine of them on the ground. Rubin averaged 82 yards a game and added seven touchdowns.
Walsh doesn’t feel like the running game will feel any negative effects as a result of the offense’s changes.
“We’re gonna run the same plays. The backs will still get their chances and I really don’t think that they will notice the difference. The backs will be offset, their shoulders will be turned, but other than that, there won’t be much of a contrast,” Walsh said.
Given the time that has already been put in and the relationships that have developed as a result, there shouldn’t be too much of a hill left for the PSU offense to climb before the season starts.
“We have the timing down now. The goal with the receivers and the backs was to have all of this down before the summer started and then to use this time to work on other things,” Smith said. “We’ll be more versatile. The shotgun will allow us to open things up. The pass will open up the run and we’ll have more options as a team on offense.”
“The video is in the machine,” Coach Walsh said. “We feel like we need to come out strong and not just show up. We need to use it as a building block for the rest of the year. We need to feel like we competed when it’s over, not just like we showed up and played.”
Although PSU is ranked third in the preseason Big Sky Coaches Poll, the Vikings face a tough early schedule and even though it will not be easy for the Viks, there is promise. The Vikings appear to be on the brink of pushing itself across the meridian that divides average teams from good ones.
“We have a team mentality here right now, just like we did at the end of last season,” Walsh said. “We need to be consistent and show up to play every week. Some major players are gone from last season but I think that we will be able to hold our own. We just need to be competitive and stay together as a team.”