John McGrath

John McGrath: UW offensive line is a textbook definition of word ‘execution’

UW right guard Andrew Kirkland (73) blocks for Jake Browning during the Apple Cup against Washington State on Friday. Kirkland and the offensive line didn’t allow Browning to get sacked once in the game.
UW right guard Andrew Kirkland (73) blocks for Jake Browning during the Apple Cup against Washington State on Friday. Kirkland and the offensive line didn’t allow Browning to get sacked once in the game. The Associated Press

Postgame press sessions with losing coaches are not regarded as quip-fests, but the late John McKay was an exception. Overseeing the historically inept 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the first NFL team to finish a season without a victory or a tie — McKay was asked what he thought about his team’s execution.

“I think it’s a good idea,” answered McKay.

“Execution” is an example of a homonym — a word that is spelled and pronounced the same as another, but with a different meaning.

In any movie directed by Brian DePalma, execution tends to be gruesome. But execution on a football field is a major reason why the Washington Huskies are preparing to play in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday.

During their 45-17 Apple Cup victory, the offensive line’s execution provided quarterback Jake Browning precious moments to read his progressions. Browning finished with 21 completions in 28 attempts for 292 yards and three touchdowns, but the salient stat in Pullman was zero.

As in: zero sacks allowed.

Browning enjoyed all the time required to give any given receiver about an acre’s worth of separation against WSU’s bewildered secondary.

“I’m anxious to put that tape on, because that’s a hard defensive line to block,” UW coach Chris Petersen said of the Cougars. “They have some really good players in there, and that’s a tough scheme. They’re moving before every snap and they’re moving again once the ball is snapped. So I think it was a fairly effective job.”

Continuity is not so secret to the success of the Huskies offensive line. Left tackle Trey Adams and right tackle Kaleb McGary, fellow sophomores who stand 6-foot-8, have yet to miss a regular season start in 2016. Ditto junior center Coleman Shelton. Senior left guard Jake Eldrenkamp, meanwhile, has made 10 of 12 starts.

It was some 12 months ago when the Huskies were 4-6, stymied by an offense that seemed to follow each slight sign of progress with a regression. Then things clicked. Washington exploded for 52 points against Oregon State and 45 against WSU to improve their record to a bowl-eligible 6-6.

The bowl appearance — and subsequent 44-31 victory over Southern Mississippi in the Heart of Dallas Bowl — salvaged a once-disappointing season. But just as important was the three weeks of additional practice the Huskies got for their young offensive line, and offense in general.

“We’ve really felt good about these guys,” Petersen said Friday. “Going back to last season, when they were struggling and inconsistent making plays, they kept grinding. Towards the end of the season, they started to get a better rhythm on offense.

“Then they came back in January, and it was kind of an excited feeling they had that nothing wavered from that (at) all. You never know. It all comes down to execution. You can try hard and be energetic and all those things, but if you don’t execute...”

Browning’s gratitude toward the offensive line could be among the many reasons he takes an indifferent attitude about his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

“Obviously it would be an honor and all that,” he said after finishing the regular season with a school record 40 touchdown passes. “But that’s not the goal. The focus is on the team and not the accolades. I hope everybody on the team gets a personal award, whatever it is.”

In lieu of personal awards, the Huskies offensive line will have to settle for an anecdotal distinction:

Best Execution in a Supporting Role.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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