Dec. 16, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The Huskies are back. And so is Jake Locker - back to full health.
"Feeling great. Feeling awesome," Washington's senior quarterback said of his previously broken rib, after he smoothly led the offense through practice Thursday night.
It was the team's first work on the field for Dec. 30's Holiday Bowl since a three-day break for final exams. And it was the most extensive work for Locker and his fellow starters since the Apple Cup victory at Washington State on Dec. 4.
"I feel normal," Locker said. "Yeah, like I always had before."
That would be before his rib was broken Oct. 30 against Stanford. Doctors have estimated broken ribs generally take at least six weeks to heal. And though Locker started three of the four games for the Huskies (6-6) since the fracture, the injury now happened six week ago. And he still has two more weeks before the Huskies' rematch with Nebraska (10-3).
"He looks as quick and as explosive as I have seen him look in quite some time," pleased coach Steve Sarkisian said. "His suddenness in the pocket and out of the pocket, his ability to play on the move, is as good as we've seen in months."
Locker's apparent return to full health wasn't the only pre-Holiday Bowl cheer for the Dawgs Thursday.
Starting defensive end Talia Crichton was back practicing two months to the day since he last played, before arthroscopic knee surgery. And left tackle Senio Kelemete was also back, seemingly fully recovered from the sprained ankle he got at Cal on Nov. 27. That freak injury came when center Drew Schaefer tripped over Kelemete's ankle and sprained it in while rushing to join the celebration of Chris Polk's winning touchdown run on the final play.
Kelemete played in the Apple Cup the following week despite hardly practicing, then helped open the holes through which Polk ran for 284 yards - the second-best rushing day in UW history and best in 60 years.
So, yes, having him ready for the rematch of September's loss to the Cornhuskers is a good thing for the Huskies.
Ah, the wonders of bowl preparation -- multiple weeks to rest and recharge. It's exactly what Sarkisian had in mind when he had most of his veteran starters watch young backups drill in three practices last weekend.
Throw in a dazzling, one-handed catch and run down the sideline by Devin Aguilar of a pass by Locker that had the entire team hollering and the offense in the end zone congratulating him, plus the music Salt-N-Pepa pulsing through the Dempsey indoor facility during practice, and the Huskies were pumped throughout their latest in-season practice since their last bowl appearance in 2002.
"I thought we looked fresh, looked like we had fresh legs running around. And that was the most important thing," Sarkisian said.
The helmets-and-shorts practice resembled a normal Monday during the regular season. Sarkisian said the "meat and potatoes" of game-plan preparation for Nebraska will begin Friday. The Huskies will also practice Saturday, Sunday and Monday, then will take Tuesday and Wednesday off. They fly to San Diego on Dec. 23.
They will follow the same practice and game-planning pattern there, starting Christmas Eve in the first of five workouts at the University of San Diego. Then, a walkthrough at Qualcomm Stadium Dec. 29, the day before the Thursday night Holiday Bowl at 7 p.m.
Sarkisian is following the same postseason practice schedule he was on as an assistant for Pete Carroll at USC from 2001-03 and '05-'08.
Why not? Those Trojans went 5-2 in bowls in that span, including four Rose Bowl titles and one national championship.
"This format has been successful," Sarkisian said. "It's a USC blueprint for sure."
That extensive and high-profile postseason experience is why Sarkisian looked amused when someone asked if the second-year Huskies coach will be nervous in his first bowl game as a head man.
"No, I'll be fine," he deadpanned.
He thinks his underdog Huskies, winners of three straight, must-win games, will be, too.
"We've been on national television before," Sarkisian said, knowing the Holiday Bowl on ESPN will be UW's ninth national TV game this season. "We've played against good football teams before. We played against this good football team on national television. "So I don't anticipate jitters at all on our end. I anticipate us coming in really prepared, really focused and playing a football game at a really high level against a good opponent."