Oct. 29, 2010
|Gametracker||Live Audio||Gameday Central|
|TV: Versus||Radio: Washington ISP Sports Network|
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Jake Locker is feeling as well as he has in a month.
Stanford's defense is not.
What's trending could become what's key for the Huskies in their attempt to pull off another big win on Saturday against the 13th-ranked Cardinal at Husky Stadium.
Kickoff is at 4:00 p.m. on Versus television. The Washington ISP Sports Network has the radio broadcast. Gohuskies.com has a live, in-game chat, Gametracker and a subscription-based live audio feed.
Locker has had sore ribs and a sore thigh that kept him from running as much as Washington (3-4, 2-2 Pac-10) might have wanted him to in last week's loss at Arizona. But he was running and throwing fully in team drills Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time in weeks, and then Thursday he also participated in all phases of practice. Coach Steve Sarkisian says his indispensible quarterback just had his best practice week of October.
"His movement is much better than it's been in the last few weeks," Sarkisian said. "I expect him to go out and play a really passionate football game."
Rugged Stanford (6-1, 3-1), UW's fifth ranked opponent in six games, is off to its best start since 1970.
Saturday's game is the next-to-last home game of Locker's UW career that began as a redshirt freshman starting inside a steamy dome in Syracuse to begin the 2007 season.
Yes, he realizes the end is near. But he still has his sights on the Huskies' first bowl game since 2002. Washington needs three wins in the final five games to qualify for the postseason.
"Yeah, actually coming up this will be my second to last game I will ever play in this stadium," said Locker, who has thrown 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions this season. "It's gone fast. It seems like just a couple of days ago I was up here talking to you for the first time trying to figure out what this is all about.
"But at the same time we still have a lot of football games in front of us. And I still believe this football team has a great opportunity and we need to approach it that way and get ready for it that way.''
Seizing that opportunity means dealing with what the Huskies are convinced will be another smash-mouth approach by Stanford -- even with the Cardinal's Andrew Luck opposing Locker in a duel of high-profile quarterbacks.
Luck, a redshirt sophomore, leads the Pac-10 in total offense while averaging 283 yards passing and running per game. Locker is third in the conference in total yards, averaging 266.6.
And this week Locker will have back Devin Aguilar, one his favorite receiving targets. Aguilar has missed most of the last few weeks with an injury.
Yet the Dawgs still remember how the Cardinal ran directly at them for most of last season's loss in Palo Alto, which came with the Huskies having just beaten No. 3 USC and ranked for the first time in six years.
Toby Gerhart rumbled for 200 yards that day, most of them up the middle. Though Gerhart is now playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Stanford is still second in the Pac-10 in rushing offense to national No. 1 Oregon, at an average of 216 yards on the ground per game paved by a veteran offensive line.
"Oh, yeah, they are by far one of the most physical teams in the Pac-10 if not the country," said middle linebacker Cort Dennison, at whom Stanford is likely to run most. "They pound the rock.
"I take that as a challenge. They are going to bring it in more ways than one."
That means Everrette Thompson moves back outside to end from tackle, and freshman Sione Potoa'e will be making his first start. Sophomore Semisi Tokolahi, at 297 pounds, is also going to play more at defensive tackle in an effort to match Stanford's size and power running game.
"They need to up their level of play for us to have a chance. They really do," Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "That's what we've been telling (Potoa'e and Tokolahi). It's just a great opportunity for some of these guys -- now go make the most of your opportunities."
Mason Foster, who is third in the nation averaging 11.7 tackles per game, says the Huskies must remain in their assigned defensive gaps. He admitted he wandered too far last week on the pivotal, 78-yard touchdown run up the middle by Arizona one scrimmage play after UW had closed to within 17-14. The Huskies didn't get closer the rest of that night in the desert.
The commonly held notion with any good running team is that if you can get ahead, it will have to resort to throwing the ball to catch up.
So it would behoove the Huskies to take an early lead. A sustained rushing attack led by sophomore tailback Polk, who has three 100-yard games this season and eight in his two seasons at UW, could then give Washington's defense breaks it didn't have at Arizona. That would also take some of the load off Locker.
How a still-changing offensive line performs against Stanford's shifting three- and four-man fronts will determine how much Washington can run Polk and freshman scat back Jesse Callier on Saturday.
Washington has won 12 of its last 14 games against Stanford played at Husky Stadium. And this time, it's not like the Huskies don't know what's coming.
"It's going to be a tough, physical game," Foster said. "But we're ready for it."