Whether the program was snake-bitten, Ty-stricken or simply enduring an extended case of bad luck, the Washington Huskies seem on track for a turnaround.
Early signs point to new coach Steve Sarkisian as the reason. Whatever he touches, however he explains something, and wherever he goes, he seems to have the cure the Huskies were in dire need of following an 0-12 season under Ty Willingham.
The coach knows he can’t do it alone. He needs players whose careers are on the upswing, and not stalemated. Specifically, he needs quarterback Jake Locker.
And on the biggest day of spring camp, in front of 10,000 curious fans at Husky Stadium, Locker was the shiniest example of progress made in the short-but-sweet Sarkisian era.
In fact, the junior from Ferndale was darned near perfect – 16-of-18 passing for 200 yards and two touchdown tosses – as his Purple team throttled the White squad, 33-0, on Saturday.
Locker also added a rushing touchdown – a 10-yarder on the first drive – as did running backs Chris Polk (9-yarder) and Demetrius Bronson (12-yarder) in a dominating display of firepower against an overwhelmed second-string defense.
And while it was only the second-string Locker was out-playing, he’s been doing it for the past month, too.
“I felt like we were always moving forward, which is good,” said Locker of the Purple offense’s 381-yard total. “A lot of guys touched the ball and did good things, especially after the catch. I threw a lot of short passes, and it turned into big gains. It kind of changed the field for us.”
One number Sarkisian mentioned more than once this spring: 60 – the completion percentage he’d like his quarterback to achieve.
Locker was way above that at a 69.2 percent clip in three spring scrimmages. He finished 36-of-52 for 975 yards and four touchdowns
“I thought Jake was really sharp. He’s playing much more relaxed that he was earlier in the spring,” Sarkisian said.
Some of it resulted from mechanical adjustments. Another portion is the commitment to the run game, and the play-action pass attack off of it.
“(The play-action) helps a lot, gets the defense on their toes,” said receiver Jermaine Kearse, a Lakes High product, who caught Locker’s final 8-yard scoring pass to end the game. “Last year, we didn’t have that many play action (plays), so the defense knew it was going to be a run or a pass. But this year, they’ll have to worry about both.”
Locker completed 10 passes in a row to close the first half. The last was arguably the play of the game.
Running back Willie Griffin flashed into the right flat, and Locker hit him on a short pass. As Griffin made his way toward the right sideline, receiver Devin Aguilar popped two defenders on their backs to clear the way for a 29-yard touchdown.
Lost in the Locker performance was the play of the Purple defense, which held backup quarterback Ronnie Fouch and company to 63 yards. And it preserved the shutout in the final quarter when Fouch fumbled in the red zone on a pass attempt, and safety Nate Williams recovered it.
“We were running around fast, playing hard … and tackling really well,” Williams said. “Everything worked out good. This is a great way to start the summer workouts.”
As not only thousands of fans came to watch, but nearly 200 former UW players, there was a sense of relief to go along with the excitement of playing the game that ended spring camp.
“It was way harder than it’s ever been in the past two years I’ve been here,” Williams said. “It was the intensity every day, like we were out here playing a game (in practice). Now we know we can kind of relax … and look forward to this summer.”
Bronson tallied his fourth touchdown run in three scrimmage games with his 12-yard scamper in the second quarter. … Sarkisian singled out Polk (12 carries, 95 yards, TD), linebacker Donald Butler (two tackles for loss), safety Johri Fogerson and tight end Kavario Middleton as having standout games, along with Locker. … The team did not suffer any injuries in the game, the coach said.