WENATCHEE — There wasn’t a lot to like about the Wenatchee football team’s homecoming loss Friday against Chiawana, but Brandon Harle found a silver lining, and in his line of work, it was rather substantial.
After reviewing the game film, the Panthers quarterbacks coach saw reason for optimism going forward, evidence validating his body of work with senior signal-caller Dillon Sugg.
The bright spot didn’t come during a downfield strike or from a slick display of athleticism: it was a simple, yet consistent mechanical progression in Sugg’s dropbacks that shows his progression at the position.
“Film-wise, his dropbacks were the best they’ve been ever, on a consistent basis, one snap to the next,” Harle said.
While lost in the box score, these technical improvements are proof Sugg is making remarkable strides this season, strides that have been largely responsible for the Panthers’ potent offense.
Sugg’s had the tangible goods — arm strength, athleticism — his entire career. But the intricate improvements to his mechanics have made a world of difference in his third year under center.
“All those little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that you don’t see in the game, we need him to do, because it keeps the defense off-balance,” Harle said. “And if he doesn’t do those things, the defense doesn’t have to worry or account for him, and this year he’s worked really hard at each game getting better at (those things).”
Harle — who has been part of the Wenatchee coaching staff for 10 years, but is in his first year as quarterbacks coach — spent countless hours reviewing every snap Sugg took during the 2012 season and graded every play based on his footwork, dropbacks, whether he made the right read, the right throw and whether he followed through on play fakes.
Harle took that information and devised a series of daily drills emphasizing mechanics.
Each week the quarterbacks coach reviews film and grades each play, tracking Sugg’s progress, which has been steady. Wins and losses matter, but Harle drills simplicity and self-accountability.
“Regardless of the score, you have to control what you can control,” Harle said.
Sugg’s career touchdown-interception ratio was 26-21 heading into the 2013 season. This fall it has soared to 12-3 through five games, including last week’s contest in which Sugg threw two picks and one touchdown.
The three-year starter set the single-game school record for yards in a game with 300 against Davis earlier this fall and has already set school records for career passing yards (3,658), career passing touchdowns (38), career attempts (522) and career completions (283).
Sugg’s senior campaign has been leaps and bounds his best — he ranks second in the Big Nine in yards (1,137) and touchdowns (12) — and there are plenty of reasons for the aerial explosion.
Mechanics, as previously noted, are a part of the equation. But Wenatchee’s implementation of the spread attack has certainly helped bolster Sugg’s statistics.
Head coach Scott Devereaux introduced the offensive scheme midway through last year, and its effectiveness has been far-reaching.
Devereaux cut down on the playbook considerably and minimized the amount of the quarterback’s pre-play responsibilities by giving the play from the sideline and minimizing audibles.
By simplifying Sugg’s pre-snap process and surrounding him with a deep stable of talent — including several speedy backs converted to wideouts — the senior was granted the freedom to hone in on making quick reads and getting the ball to playmakers in space.
Aside from the most obvious weapon, senior running back Isaiah Brandt-Sims, Sugg has done a remarkable job of targeting several receivers each week.
“He doesn’t just have to look at one receiver, he can look at all of us,” third-year starter Spencer Smith said. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but he does have the luxury of picking whoever he wants.”
With polished mechanics, trust in the plays coming from the sideline and a stable of speed in the huddle, the 6-foot-4 Sugg’s job boils down to his ability to make quick reads and accurate, short throws. So far, he’s done that job very well.
“I think it’s a breakthrough,” Sugg said of his performance to this point, “because this is what I wanted to play like. There’s a couple of plays I wish I could take back … but so far, I’ve been very pleased with the way I’ve played. But I don’t play that well if I don’t have my offensive line being as great as they are, or Isaiah being the threat he is, or the receivers catching every ball I throw at them. There’s no way I’m where I am now without all of that happening.”