Oct. 19, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - This is an especially convenient time for the Huskies' offense to have strengths emerging other than Jake Locker.
Chris Polk had his third 100-yard rushing game last weekend. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian leaned on his rugged sophomore plow horse - the man Locker calls "awesome" and a "stud" -- more in a 35-34 win in double overtime against Oregon State.
And the Huskies (3-3, 2-1 Pac-10) have found a new offensive line. It steamrolled the Beavers in its unveiling en route to 475 total yards of offense.
Those dual developments give 15th-ranked Arizona (5-1, 2-1) something other than the dynamic Locker's passing and running to worry about when UW visits Tucson Saturday night for a nationally televised matchup of second-place teams in the conference.
Specifically, the Huskies have options to slow down ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed. The wildest `Cats on Arizona's defensive front are first and second in the Pac-10 in sacks. Elmore has six, Reed has 4 1/2.
"They're monsters," Sarkisian said, chuckling. "These guys, they are the whole game to me, in my opinion. Our ability to block them is going to (be) a significant factor in the outcome of this ball game."
Good thing Washington had already moved Drew Schaefer, who started the first five games at center, to right tackle. The sophomore finished his freshman season of 2009 at tackle.
"Drew Schaefer at right tackle provides a little more stability, a little more athleticism out there to handle some of these rush ends that we're faced with," Sarkisian said.
Senio Kelemete will again start at left tackle. He's the only one who stayed put last week when the Huskies shuffled the rest of the line. Senior Ryan Tolar moved back over to left guard from the right side. Recent guard Greg Christine, a senior, slid over to provide smarts and experience at center. And true freshman Colin Porter is scheduled to make his second consecutive start as a 307-pound right guard.
"Colin is a really big body for us, a really physical body for us, and a kid who I thought did a great job not letting the situation be too big for him (against Oregon State)," Locker said. "That can be an intimidating game to come in your first start as a true freshman, coming into a game of that importance for us.
"I was really proud of the way he played."
Then there's the other mammoth freshman, Erik Kohler. The 6-foot-5, 306-pounder started the Nebraska and USC games at left guard but has been out while battling mononucleosis since.
"I really believe he can be dominant," line coach Dan Cozzetto said.
But he may not play against Arizona. Kohler got out to work some during light drills on Monday, though Sarkisian said he has no idea when he will return to playing.
At least Washington knows Polk will be in Tucson.
He ran a season-high 25 times for 105 yards last weekend against Oregon State, while again breaking numerous tackles at the line of scrimmage and running like a locomotive.
"That was a blue collar day for old No. 1. A typical Chris Polk day, yards after contact, pounding the football when we needed him to," Sarkisian said of Polk's eighth career 100-yard game.
Sarkisian and Locker say Polk has noticeably matured this season, progressing from confident freshman starter to wiser sophomore. That, in turn, has increased the play caller's trust in him.
"Just his attention to detail," Sarkisian said. "He's matured in all phases of his life, not only on the football field but in the class room and his personal world. All in all it's making him a better player.''
Locker says having Polk with him in the backfield in shotgun formations and with three wide receivers is "awesome."
"Even if it's not always blocked right and there's not always a hole, he's a very physical, very tough runner," the quarterback said. "He finds ways to get those extra two or three yards. ... It's fun to watch him run, it really is."
Locker is especially - and personally - happy with Polk's improved pass protection.
"He's really physical in the blocking game. He comes up and will `stud up' on anybody," Locker said. "I think that's what makes running backs special."
So by running and blocking, Polk will be a central part of Washington's attempt to slow down Arizona's rush ends and improve to 3-1 against ranked teams. That would keep the Huskies near the top of the jumbled, wild conference one season after they finished seventh in it.
"We're heading in the right direction," said linebacker Cort Dennison, last weekend's hero for harassing Oregon State's tight end into dropping a two-point conversion pass on the final play.
"We expect to play with anybody."