Washington football coach Chris Petersen wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of snapping the ball to kicker Tristan Vizcaino on a fake field-goal attempt Saturday.
But special teams coach Jeff Choate, as Petersen put it, “was all over that. He really wanted it bad.”
Thanks to Choate’s arm-twisting and Petersen’s flexibility, Vizcaino ended up becoming the first Huskies kicker to score a touchdown since at least 1974. While the sophomore’s 2-yard dash wasn’t the difference in Washington’s 31-17, not-as-close-as-the-score-looks victory over Utah State, it served to restore Petersen’s reputation for thinking out of the box.
When Petersen was offensive coordinator and then head coach at Boise State, the Broncos were known as much for the gadgets in their playbook as their blue Smurf Turf of home. But throughout his first season with the Huskies, mad science was eschewed for fundamentals.
Washington’s only consequential trick play in 2014 was a 34-yard touchdown pass from Marvin Hall to tight end Joshua Perkins at Arizona. The second-quarter touchdown tied the game at 7, and might have qualified as memorable if not for the late fumble that forced Petersen to defend his time-management decisions.
In any case, the Huskies’ playbook against Utah State called for some vintage Petersen ruses. Before the fake field goal, quarterback Jake Browning threw a lateral pass to Hall, who lateraled the ball back to Browning, who connected on a completion to wide receiver Darrell Daniels.
“We’ve been practicing that one a couple of times a week — we kind of had it ready,” offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said of the 21-yard gain, which set up the field goal that gave the Huskies a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter. “Guys get a kick out of plays like that, especially if they’re participating in them. Marvin was (champing) at the bit to do it because he got to throw the ball.”
Vizcaino, who hadn’t scored a touchdown since high school, was similarly champing at the bit.
“I think I was just focused on the task at hand and what I had to do — going through my steps and making sure it wasn’t too obvious,” he said. “But I almost had a little false start there.”
Concurred Petersen: “He almost tipped his hand. He was like a racehorse late in the gate.”
But Vizcaino somehow managed to persuade the Aggies otherwise. He took the snap and used his speed — in addition to kicking and punting at Damien High in Chino Hills, California, he played wide receiver — en route to an uncontested touchdown.
“The thing about Tristan is he’s fast,” Petersen said. “He can really run. I think your normal kicker would have been caught.”
Vizcaino, it should be pointed out, is not the Huskies’ normal kicker. He’s a long-range specialist who typically stands on the sideline as teammate Cameron Van Winkle attempts short field goals and extra points.
Had Utah State prepared ultrameticulous notes on its opponents kicking game, Vizcaino’s presence on the field for a 19-yard field goal would have aroused suspicions.
Which brings us to a problem about trickery: When it succeeds, its potential to succeed soon again is severely compromised. The next time Tristan Vizcaino sets up his steps for a routine field-goal attempt at Husky Stadium, opposing coaches will be screaming, “Watch out for the fake!” so loud they’ll be heard in Fife.
Gadgets aren’t literally a once-and-done deal. They’re once every three-or-four season deals, seemingly impetuous plays polished through repetitions of practice, practice and more practice.
That’s the assumption. The reality?
“We got stuffed in practice,” Vizcaino said, “almost every time.”
The best football tricks, it turns out, might be those so bold they surprise both sides.