Locker’s last home game belonged to the Washington defense
The Huskies swathed in black only brings thoughts of demise.
Losers of three consecutive, butts of jokes, representatives of false hope, the 3-6 Washington football team trotted into Husky Stadium on Thursday night for a final time in 2010. They spent the evening in black uniforms against UCLA.
It was fluff to take focus away from the reality of two sub-.500 teams playing in primetime on ESPN. How executives at the Endlessly Self Promoting Network must have cringed when forced to air this debacle.
But during a bumpy, frigid, lowly-attended game, an odd thing happened. Washington’s defense controlled the outcome, helping the Huskies down UCLA 24-7.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, himself decked out in black when thought of by Washington fans, is a supposed quarterback maestro. Saturday, the two men at the helm for the Bruins went 6-for-25 with three interceptions. These are brow-scrunching numbers against the Huskies, who languished ninth in the conference in total defense.
Also stunning was the impact of Washington cornerback Quinton Richardson. The junior wrangled the Senior Night spotlight from Jake Locker.
Washington’s cornerback play this season has been meek. At times, pathetic. Their inability to play single coverage has left defensive coordinator Nick Holt with an excess of holes to plug. On Saturday night, Richardson returned an interception for a touchdown, leveled several Bruins, and, as he is wont to do, talked a large pile of trash.
“The ball was coming in slow motion,” Richardson said of his pick. “It was a defensive call where I had to be patient, play two receivers. Luckily, the quarterback didn’t see me.”
Evidence that Richardson would put together this type of game was limited. During an indoor practice at fall camp, Locker sprinted to his left on a designed run. Richardson was on the corner, across from wide receiver Jermaine Kearse. Kearse glimpsed over his should and spotted Locker charging toward them. So, he took off.
Kearse was in full-go up the sideline. Richardson turned to chase. Locker, about three yards inside of the duo, zoomed down the field. He eventually caught and passed Richardson. The corner did not see the captain until his yellow mesh crossed into the end zone.
Richardson’s play since represented this lack of awareness in degrees. The past few weeks have been an improvement. Thursday night was an epiphany, with much thanks deserved by the inept UCLA quarterbacks.
“The last month, three to four weeks, he’s really improved,” Holt said. “He might be our most improved player on defense. He’s always had the physical abilities, and now he’s just putting it all together.”
Locker’s physical ability was reduced on Thursday. Pain from his broken rib lingered despite a new flak (or should it be crack?) jacket encasing the damage. Despite the pain, he chipped away at his still yet-to-be-determined legacy without injections and after hesitation by the coach to play him.
This was a gut-based win for Locker who threw for just 68 yards and ran for only nine. He powered through five Bruins to gain 11 desperate yards on 3rd and 12 to end the first quarter. It was his first crunching by opposition in 19 days. He knew it was going to hurt, as the whole night would physically, but he did it anyway.
“If I had to be conscious of changing how I play, I wasn’t comfortable doing that,” Locker said. “I was going to play the way I always do and if something happened, it happened.”
Chris Polk ran for a career-high 136 yards. Freshman Jesse Callier brightened the twinkle over his head with another 107 yards. Their abilities sustained the Huskies’ offense, and, for once, provided Locker with help on a night he needed it most.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian may come out with molar damage. He ran and punted and ran and punted. There was no basket, bell or steamers on the bike. Just an efficient grinding system. A course of action that would have been suitable at other points in the season.
Packaged, it allowed Washington to go Rev. Jesse Jackson postgame with bowl hopes still alive. Two wins are necessary to play in a low-grade bowl game, but a sponsorship from a hyphenated popped product would be elation for the stumbling program.
It was the last home game for Locker, Nate Williams, Mason Foster, D’Andre Goodwin and a chunk of others. None have played a winning season of football at Washington. Now, there’s still a chance to change that.