QB Jake Locker running judiciously for Washington
SEATTLE (AP)It was the kind of play usually only made by hitting a series of buttons in a video game, a play that James Johnson only heard his quarterback was capable of, but had yet to see in person.
With a 230-pound linebacker climbing on his head and shoulders last Saturday night, Washington's Jake Locker simply shrugged off the potential sack. Then he made a full-speed cut to avoid two more tacklers and left the last defender between him and the end zone lying on the turf as Locker sprinted 56 yards and added another clip to his career highlight film.
"I can't really see his face or anything because he is so fast," Johnson said. "I'm usually behind him trying to catch up. It's awesome."
Halfway through his first season in the offense coach Steve Sarkisian brought to Washington that asks Locker to be a passer first, he is flashing talent throwing the ball. He's completing 57 percent of his throws and has tossed 10 touchdowns versus just four interceptions.
Locker's desire to showcase himself as a true passer has shown itself to be beneficial and at times a hindrance. In Washington's upset of USC, Locker bypassed a chance to run for a touchdown and nearly threw an interception trying to force a throw. But later in the same game, Locker's patience led to a completed pass that set up the Huskies' winning field goal.
But then there are moments like last Saturday's first-quarter touchdown dash against Arizona where Locker flashes his jaw-dropping running ability. Locker shook off Arizona middle linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka, then simply sprinted away from the rest of the Wildcats defense.
"It was the first time since I've been in college that I've had green grass in front of me and just kept running for a while," Locker said. "I hadn't had that happen since high school."
That touchdown run was just a precursor of what Locker's workload became against the Wildcats. With starting tailback Chris Polk slightly injuring his surgically repaired left shoulder and Sarkisian a bit antsy about pushing Polk too much, the pass-happy coach let Locker become a bit more of a runner.
Locker carried 11 times last Saturday, his most since the season opener against LSU when Washington's offense was still in the infancy of its game development. Aside from his touchdown run, Locker averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. But those yards were needed on a day that Washington's running backs managed just 40 yards rushing.
"I thought there were some opportunities in the game plan where Jake could make some plays so we utilized his legs a little bit more to try to get some momentum back on our side," Sarkisian said.
That balancing act between Locker's innate running ability and his talents as a passer is an ongoing process for Sarkisian. Before the season began, Sarkisian preached to Locker that he take care of himself when he does run; meaning stepping out of bounds if getting that extra yard isn't needed or being willing to slide in the open field.
Locker was healthy for only four starts last season, but ran 56 times for 180 yards in those four games. His run-pass ratio in more of a spread offensive system was one run for every 1.66 passes. As a freshman in 2007, it was one run for every 1.9 throws.
This season with Sarkisian's offense, the ratio is one run for every 3.3 throws.
"This coaching staff will put together a great game plan for us week in and week out and puts us in the best situation to have a chance to win the football game," Locker said. "Whether that's carrying it 10 times or zero times I'm fine with it."
Sarkisian might be tempted to use the threat of Locker's legs a bit more this week against an Arizona State defense that is allowing just 49.6 yards per game rushing and last week held Washington State to minus-53 yards rushing thanks to a dozen sacks.
But if he does, Sarkisian expects Locker to be smart about his running.
"I think he's understanding it pretty well. When there are times to make plays we want him to make his plays," Sarkisian said. "Not that we want him to handcuff him to where he's not allowed to scramble. ... He's making really good decisions and I expect it to be the same as we move forward."