There were only a few plays left in Washington's 21-10 win over Arizona on Saturday night when center Juan Garcia turned to guard Clay Walker...
There were only a few plays left in Washington’s 21-10 win over Arizona on Saturday night when center Juan Garcia turned to guard Clay Walker with a little request.
“Hey Clay, mind taking a few snaps for me?” Garcia asked. His hand had just been stepped on and he wasn’t sure he could grip the ball.
“No,” responded Walker. “You’re taking them all.”
Walker joked it didn’t look like much more than a little scratch.
“I wasn’t going to let him go out,” Walker said. “I was just like, ‘Hey, finish it.’ “
And with that, the streak stayed alive.
Through five games, all five of Washington’s offensive linemen — left tackle Ben Ossai, left guard Stanley Daniels, center Garcia, right guard Walker and right tackle Chad Macklin — have played every offensive play of every game at the same position.
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While it’s become a weekly note of interest with the media, the linemen say they don’t view it as a big deal.
Ideally, they realize, a team finds a starting offensive line and sticks with it.
“We know that’s expected of us,” said Macklin.
But it’s not something a UW offensive line has been able to provide too often in recent seasons.
In fact, when all five linemen simply trotted out to start the Arizona game Saturday it presented something of a milestone. It was the first time since the 2001 season the Huskies have been able to start the same offensive line for more than four consecutive games. That year, the same line started the first nine games of the season.
Not so coincidentally, 2001 was also the last time the Huskies started a season 4-1 or won their first two Pac-10 games.
“It’s a good sign for them,” said former Washington State coach Mike Price, now at Texas-El Paso. “If you look at losing teams, you’ll see that they don’t have everybody [on the line] the whole year.”
Price has always said that one of the underrated reasons for the success of the 1997 Cougars was that the same five offensive linemen were able to start all 12 games. None received All-Pac-10 recognition, but working together all year made the line better than the sum of its parts.
That might be what’s happening with Washington’s line, which, while far from overpowering, is doing enough to make the offense successful when it has to be.
The stability is a change from recent seasons. Last year, for instance, the Huskies started five offensive-line groupings, three in the first three weeks of the season.
Coach Tyrone Willingham said before the season that he thought the offensive line might be the most important factor in the team’s success. A team can get by with subpar play in other areas, he said, but not up front. And continuity, he said, makes a huge difference as teamwork is important in figuring out blocking assignments.
“I’ve always said that the play is the fastest on the offensive and defensive lines,” Willingham said. “You only have that much room between you and the guy across from you and you’ve got to make decisions and you don’t have a lot of time to make those decisions. So from that standpoint, you may want to keep that group intact more than some of the other groups.”
But wanting to do it and pulling it off are two different things.
The Huskies have been able to make it through a season with the same offensive line in every game only three times since 1976 — 1994, 1991 and 1979.
As for the same five guys playing every play of every game, that’s apparently never happened in that time.
“I’ve never been able to do that in 30 years [of coaching],” said Idaho coach Dennis Erickson. “That’s unique. But if that can happen, that’s a Godsend, because having those guys working together and staying together for every snap, that just makes a huge difference.”
The biggest determiner is injury. So far, the UW linemen have had only a few close calls, mostly cramping.
Chance also plays a role. Often, an early-season blowout allows for mass subbing late in the game. But UW hasn’t won any of its games by big margins and in the loss to Oklahoma, Huskies coaches wanted to keep the line in to gain experience.
Also a factor is that there is a wide gap between the starting five and the substitutes — none of the five backup linemen has ever taken a snap in a college game.
Willingham said he sees no need to get some of the team’s younger linemen experience just in case, and that if the five starters can handle it, he’s more than content to let them go every play all season.
“I hope our conditioning is strong and good and I hope the mindset of our guys is really strong and tough and determined,” he said. “We’ll see how it works out.”
Garcia’s mind is willing, even if his body may question it at times.
“I think we’ve been getting lucky lately [to avoid injury],” he said. “It’s a grind being on the offensive line. This is my first season playing [after injuries the last two years] and I’m five games into it and I can already feel it. You are banging on every play, even in practice. It takes a toll on your body. So to see us playing this long is kind of cool.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org