Sept. 14, 2007
SEATTLE (AP) - Even though he's already almost as big as coffee in Seattle, Jake Locker admits he was just so-so in his first home start for Washington last week.
Yet offensive coordinator Tim Lappano was still wowed. The veteran NFL and college assistant marveled that before he could get his first teaching point out over the sideline phones after some dead-end drives against Boise State, Locker was discussing what they could do to succeed on the next series. Lappano said he was struck how the 19-year-old quarterback in his second collegiate start was so focused and poised in overcoming adversity.
Locker may get many more chances to deal with trouble on Saturday.
No. 10 Ohio State will bring the nation's top-ranked defense into Husky Stadium, which is expected to be sold out for the first time in four years for this test of how good resurgent Washington (2-0) really is.
The Buckeyes have lost just once in 22 games -- last season's blowout by Florida in the national championship game.
"This is huge," Washington senior linebacker Dan Howell said of the Buckeyes' first trip to Seattle since 1994.
"Your getting the best coming to your stadium. This opportunity doesn't come by very often."
Ohio State is trying to return to dominance after lackluster wins against Youngstown State and Akron on the eve of Big Ten play.
Washington is trying to return to national prominence after years of futility and turmoil before going into the Pac-10 next week at UCLA.
"The time is now," said senior cornerback Roy Lewis, the Pac-10 Player of the Week.
The Huskies, behind Locker running the spread offense plus a surprisingly stout defense that has allowed just 22 points this season, are 2-0 for the first time since 2001. Last week's 24-10 upset of then-No. 22 Boise State was their first win over a ranked team since Tyrone Willingham arrived in 2005 to resuscitate a program in ruin following Rick Neuheisel's firing and a 1-10 season under Keith Gilbertson three years ago.
"This is their saving game," Ohio State center Jim Cordle said.
"This is a game that they can all of a sudden be on a pedestal nationally. They can show who they are."
Ohio State's defense -- led by linebacker James Laurinaitis, the Nagurski Award winner as the top defensive player in the country last season -- has allowed just eight points and no touchdowns through two games, the team's fewest points allowed through two weeks since 1996.
"I think AP voters and coaches will look at this game and say, 'Is this team for real?"' defensive tackle Doug Worthington said of Washington.
"It's a statement game for both teams. Washington is back on track, with coach Willingham. This is a huge game for both teams, both programs -- both conferences even."
The Buckeyes' offense, with quarterback Todd Boeckman replacing Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, had five turnovers last week in a 20-2 win over Akron. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells had a career-high 143 last week -- but just 46, on 16 carries, against lower-division Youngstown State.
Still, Washington has been gushing over Wells' combination of speed and power.
"You don't look at those two games as the true indicator of their offensive skill," Willingham said. "You've got a back who is darn, darn good."
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel has been saying "we're a young team" as much as he wears a sleeveless sweater. That's because only 10 of 22 starters from last season have returned.
"We're kind of a work in progress, more so on offense," Tressel said.
Tressel noted Boeckman, a junior, is still raw because he spent last season as the No. 3 quarterback. That meant he had almost no practice time in the offense until this preseason.
That also means he has never played amid the scene he'll face Saturday, when the first sellout crowd since 2003 is likely to rock Husky Stadium as if Don James were back coaching Rose Bowl teams of the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
"He may have seen environments that were exciting and loud -- like at Penn State and Michigan. But that was while standing on the sidelines in a ball cap, signaling plays," Tressel said.
"Quite frankly, he and we both need it."
This week, Ohio State brought in former coach Earle Bruce to talk to the team. In 1986, he led the Buckeyes -- then also ranked 10th -- into Seattle. They got clobbered 40-7. Bruce warned these Buckeyes about the environment at Husky Stadium, how the steel, cantilevered roofs that shield each upper deck from rain act as megaphones that funnel noise onto the field.
"I'm not saying it's like a Washington, but going to Texas last year also helped us to see the different atmosphere and how crazy it can be," Worthington said of Ohio State's domination of the Longhorns before 89,422 in Austin.