By now, you’ve heard the theory.
But, just to humor you, it goes something like this: Talented Athlete A doesn’t practice well. He was a highly ranked recruit and he runs fast and lifts heavy weights and more than looks the part, but he can’t seem to get up for these monotonous daily practices. He doesn’t compete hard in drills. He doesn’t ever excel in scrimmages. He has all the ability in the world, but his coaches can’t seem to access it.
That is, until Saturday. There’s something about the bright lights and the big crowds and the Pac-12 competition. There’s something about that adrenaline rush — about the heart-pounding pressure that can’t be simulated in practice. On game day, Talented Athlete A turns it on. On game day, he’s a different player.
In other words, Talented Athlete A suffers from Allen Iverson Syndrome.
Now, to be clear, the aforementioned hypothetical isn’t some read-between-the-lines reference to any specific player. But there certainly is a segment of Husky fans who would like to see the program’s more highly touted recruits — say, redshirt freshman wide receiver Marquis Spiker — play and attempt to prove themselves, even if more experienced, less physically impressive players have proven themselves in practice.
So, does UW head coach Chris Petersen believe that Talented Athlete A exists? Does he prescribe to the theory that a player can practice poorly, then flip a switch when it matters most?
“Not even kind of,” Petersen said during his Thursday press conference. “That would be the exact opposite of what we’re about. Now, do I think that guys turn it up in games, and there’s a little bit of a different level? Yes, I do. That’s what the big-time players are all about. But those big-time players put it on tape almost every day in practice, where they win a drill, they are a dominant player in practice and then we get to the game — where everybody is different and turns it up, and they show up again.
“So I do believe in game players that way, but I have not been around anybody who practices poorly and then it’s, ‘Oh my gosh, what is this?’ (in the game). I think that’s fantasyland, from where I come from.”
A simplified approach
It’s hardly revolutionary, but the BYU offense unveiled a new offensive wrinkle in its overtime win over USC last week, when the Cougars subbed in several defensive linemen to use as extra blockers in a particularly successful goal line package.
Petersen saw that, of course, and he admitted on Thursday that radical formations and gadgets inevitably pique his interest.
But as an offensive coach, he maintains that the real solution is a more simplified approach.
“I think the trick in this whole thing is to not do too much,” Petersen said. “That is something that’s a weakness of mine, where we’re always trying to air on the side of doing too much and that’s not a good thing. I go back to some of these teams that are really efficient, that do what they do. There’s enough (offense) there to keep (opponents) off balance.
“But I think that stuff is always interesting, and I see them put in the defensive players, and that’s fun for those guys. I get what they’re doing. We’ve done that in the past. I really understand that’s kind of cool. But you’ve got to pick and choose your battles — where you want to spend time, because it all takes practice time and we only have so much.”
Henry earns a scholarship
UW placekicker Peyton Henry was officially placed on scholarship this week, after the sophomore and second-year starter converted all 14 extra points and six field goal attempts — including a go-ahead 49-yarder against Cal — in his first three games.
“He’s done just such a good job,” Petersen said of Henry, who made 16 of 22 field goal attempts as a redshirt freshman last season. “I think how he’s worked is what we’re all about. It’s just about keeping your nose down, keep improving, keep progressing.
“There’s going to be some good days, there’s going to be some tough days, and as long as you keep grinding, things get better. He’s done that here, and it’s awesome to be able to put him on scholarship.”
High grass and thin air
BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium has two things Husky Stadium doesn’t: a grass field and thin air.
But, per Petersen, those won’t be two excuses.
“We’ve researched this long and hard, and there’s no grass around here – and that’s the bottom line – that we can use. So we practice on turf, and it’s really not an issue,” Petersen said of his team’s preparation. “We’ve been on grass a long time.
“If we don’t get things done out there, it has nothing to do with the surface. Guys slip on our turf. The surface that we have on the practice field is different from the game field. So it’s all about fundamentals, planting on the correct foot and all those type of things. It is what it is.”
Still, Petersen allowed his kickers to practice planting and kicking on a grass field this week, “just because sometimes kickers overthink things.”
As for Provo, Utah’s, elevation — roughly 4,550 feet? The Huskies don’t prepare for it because, according to Petersen, there’s really nothing to prepare for.
“That has nothing to do with nothing except that the kickers might kick the ball a little further,” he said. “That’s one thing that I think could happen.
“But we’ve been at altitude many times. We’ve been at Wyoming a bunch of times (at Boise State). And the only time I’ve ever seen it at 7,200 feet affect our team is when we had a 17-play drive once, and that’s it. That was the only time I knew that they were tired coming off, but both teams were tired after a 17-play drive.”
So, in conclusion: who cares? On Thursday, more than anything else, Petersen preached perspective.
“When I was in college we played on all grass fields. Maybe one or two was not,” he said. “Then by the end of the year they get really, really muddy — I mean, to your ankles. That’s an issue. A little bit longer grass is not an issue. So away we go.”
Petersen confirmed on Thursday that sophomore offensive lineman Henry Bainivalu — who was suspended for UW’s first three games — will be available to play against BYU. The 6-6, 326-pound Sammamish product settled as the team’s backup left tackle last spring and, after appearing in all 14 games last season, will likely be the first option off the bench at either tackle spot.
As for redshirt freshman wide receiver Trey Lowe, who has missed the first three games and did not practice last week while recovering from an infection, Petersen would only say that the former four-star prospect remains “week-to-week.”