Washington Huskies

What’s behind the Huskies’ clap snap?

Washington quarterback Jake Browning (3) on the line of scrimmage against Utah State in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Seattle. Washington beat Utah State 31-17.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning (3) on the line of scrimmage against Utah State in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Seattle. Washington beat Utah State 31-17. Associated Press

The act is becoming more and more common throughout college football, but the concept is new enough that fans still take to message boards and Twitter to ask why their team does it.

The query usually goes something like this: “Why does our quarterback clap his hands before the ball is snapped?”

Well … good question.

If you’ve watched a Washington Huskies game since coach Chris Petersen took over prior to the 2014 season, you’ve surely noticed that UW quarterbacks also use this cadence. Instead of calling out the snap count audibly, or using a silent count and accompanying hand signal, the ball is snapped at the clap of the quarterback’s hands.

The reason for doing it this way, Petersen said, is simple: Everyone on offense can hear it, regardless of how loud the stadium might be.

Petersen first noticed this when he was coaching at Boise State and a visiting opponent used a clap cadence instead of a silent or verbal count.

The sound cut through the din of a noisy, sellout crowd, loud enough for Petersen to hear it on the sideline.

“We did different snap counts,” Petersen said. “We’ve been through the gamut. And so they kind of all work, so (whatever) what you think works best for you. And playing in some loud stadiums, it’s amazing — they can get really loud, and guys can still usually hear that clap.”

There are other advantages, too. UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said he likes that all 11 offensive players can have their eyes up, looking at the field and defense ahead of them, instead of trained on the center.

With a silent cadence — for example, a snap triggered by the quarterback dropping his right hand in a downward motion — the center has to watch the quarterback, and other offensive players have to watch for the center’s head to move to indicate the snap of the ball.

With the clap count, offensive players can move based on that sound alone.

“If I play left tackle, even when it’s loud, if we’re going on the hand (signal) my eyes are inside, waiting for the center’s head to go up,” Smith said. “But now that we’re in clap, I can keep my eyes up. That’s really the biggest piece for me.”

And it’s just as easy for the quarterback to fake a clap as it is to call out a fake “hut” or other oral signal, Petersen said.

On some plays, Petersen said, the quarterback is raising his arms to simulate a clapping motion “the whole time” pre-play.

“People aren’t paying attention to see how much he’s like this,” Petersen said, raising his arms as if to clap. “and you can’t tell when he’s clapping and when he’s not. And we don’t always go on the first clap.”

One potential downside is the possibility that defensive players might clap in an effort to confuse the offense and draw a false-start penalty. Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini complained after a game against Michigan State last October that the Spartans were doing just that.

So far, the Huskies haven’t had any such issues. And the sound of the clap itself has been effective.

“We haven’t had a problem with anybody ever saying they can’t hear,” Petersen said. “So we’ve just kind of stayed with it.”

EXTRA POINTS

Former Huskies quarterback Mark Brunell will be inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame this December. Brunell played in three Rose Bowls (1991, 1992 and 1993) and was named MVP of the 1991 Rose Bowl. … Petersen declined to offer an update Thursday on the status of sophomore safety Budda Baker’s injured ankle, saying only that everyone is “week to week.”

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

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