The trio of trickeration seemed to come from nowhere; sandlot plays drawn up in the dirt and sprinkled with enough pixie dust to luck Boise State past Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
One of the greatest sports endings of all time — including a “Circus” hook-and-ladder, a wide receiver touchdown pass and a “Statue of Liberty” handoff, complete with a made-for-Hollywood proposal near the end zone — shocked the Sooners and a national-television audience.
It just didn’t surprise the guys in orange and blue.
“Not at all,” former Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky said.
Speaking with SEC Country over the phone in mid-December, Zabransky was insistent. There was nothing spontaneous or random about those play calls. Not when Chris Petersen was involved.
“You hear about coaches who are grinders,” Zabransky said. “He’s the type of guy that can watch 24 hours of straight film. He’ll come up with a bunch of different plays and looks and scenarios, and hold on to them.”
Petersen, the former Broncos coach who might’ve changed the course of the SEC had Florida given him a call when it was supposed to, is now in his third season at Washington. His Huskies take on Nick Saban and No. 1 Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Zabransky expects the Washington game plan to be full of surprises, and you can bet the 15.5-point underdogs will have some magic in their back pocket if they need it.
“They’ll find a play early in the year and practice that play like they’re gonna use it that week,” Zabransky said. “It’ll be week after week after week, and you’re like, ‘What in the heck? We’ve been running this play forever.’ And they’ve got variations. They save it for times like this, man. That coaching staff has a dozen big-time plays they haven’t run that they feel like are going to be huge plays if they can get to those scenarios.”
Pass catcher turns TD pitcher
Vinny Perretta was the wide receiver who threw Boise State’s overtime touchdown pass against Oklahoma.
He and Zabransky — who recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of that Fiesta Bowl with their former teammates — believe that this Washington team shares plenty of similarities with their 13-0 team.
“We knew that we had something special going on, just like U-Dub knows that they have something very special going on,” Perretta, now an orthopaedic sales rep for Stryker in Boise, told SEC Country. “We knew we were playing for something big.”
They’ve seen a culture shift at Washington that’s mirrored the one at Boise State when Petersen first came aboard as the Broncos offensive coordinator in 2001. It’s about accountability, they said; Petersen is such a squeaky-clean guy that players have no choice but to fall in line behind him.
“It was the same at the facility as it was about his house on Thanksgiving,” said Zabransky, who now has two children and is moving from Houston to Boise in January in pursuit of a real-estate career. “Just a genuinely good guy that does things right. You don’t have to question a human being like that.”
It doesn’t hurt that Petersen is one of the most successful coaches in the history of the sport. He’s second among current FBS coaches with a career .826 winning percentage.
Perretta saw the genius early. He remembered sitting down for a self-assigned film session during spring break of his freshman year when Petersen walked in. After 30 minutes of 1-on-1 instruction, Perretta had a completely new understanding of the offense that had eluded his grasp during his first season in Boise.
“I was so impressed,” Perretta said. “Like, ‘Hey, man, this is fun.’ That meeting in particular, I was like, ‘Damn, this guy’s a frickin’ G.’”
Zabransky sees plenty of “hot” coaches fall out of favor quickly after the honeymoon period; they don’t have the “consistency of character” that Petersen does. Perretta noted that, when Petersen left Boise three years ago, folks in the athletic department were just as upset to lose Petersen the person as they were Petersen the football coach.
“It’s kind of a funny deal,” Perretta said. “He’s just got something about him. You want to play hard for that guy. He’s like a father figure for these 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids who are trying to figure out their life now that they’re out of the house. He’s someone you truly look up to and don’t want to let down.”
Victories in the moving van
Petersen, 52, and his family made the leap from Boise to Seattle in December 2013, and he brought winning, too. This season, Washington reached double-digit victories for the second time in the past 25 seasons. There was a lone loss to Southern Cal, but Washington won every other one of its games by at least 7 points. It won 10 of its games by 3 touchdowns or more.
Beat Alabama and Petersen will have the Huskies in prime position to win their first national title since the late Don James — one of Saban’s mentors — led Washington to a ring in 1991.
Zabransky thinks Washington has enough talent to beat Goliath, but Petersen will unleash a few new tricks if necessary.
“You’re like, ‘Holy cow, this is a crazy play,’ ” Zabransky said. “But they probably ran it in 20 different sets and executed it in 30 ways, and no one’s ever seen it. So it seems like they’re just pulling it out of their back pocket, but that’s part of the illusion.”