Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

17 Comments

Surrounded by thousands of crazed college students, Pete Carroll gave up trying to find new Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian on the field, settling for a congratulatory embrace in the tunnel below Husky Stadium after Washington toppled USC 16-13 two Saturdays ago.

While Carroll had to be shocked that his Trojans could once again fall to a double-digit underdog in the Pac-10, his thoughts on the player who led the thrilling upset were crystal clear.

“That’s the best quarterback we’ve played in nine years here,” Carroll said. “Jake Locker has ridiculous talent, and had he remained healthy last year, Tyrone would still be coaching there.”

When pressed a few days later to reconsider his comments, Carroll didn’t back away from them, even after he was reminded of the game Texas quarterback Vince Young played in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

“I’m not saying he played the greatest game ever against us,” Carroll said later. “I think the guy from Texas did.

“But I just think he’s one of the really, really fine complete athletes. I don’t know why I’m blowing him up all the time, but I just really like the guy.

“I think this guy is the best quarterback we’ve played against.”

It’s no secret that Locker has been the key to the renaissance at Washington. He’s been praised for his athletic gifts since he arrived on campus in Seattle, a rare blend of power running and passing that had many believing he was the West Coast’s version of Tim Tebow. Now many consider him the class of the Pac-10 at quarterback and a more promising professional prospect than Tebow.

(Football isn’t the only sport where he’s a pro prospect. Even though he’s mostly stopped playing baseball while in college, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim paid Locker a six-figure signing bonus to control his professional rights for the next six years.)

Taking a closer look at Locker’s numbers presents us a different story. In Sarkisian’s pro style West Coast offense, Locker’s numbers are far from those you’d expect from someone Carroll presents as the best quarterback he’s played against.

Take away his performance against Idaho, where Locker went 17 of 25 for 253 yards and 3 touchdown passes, Jake is completing 55 percent of his throws, for only 6.7 yards per attempt, while tossing 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Even his prodigious rushing talents have been negated in Sark’s new offense. And while anyone who watched the Huskies beat the Trojans know that Locker relied on his legs to keep plays alive, he’s far from the option-running quarterback that Willingham unleashed back in 2007.

The Irish rank a woeful 106th against the pass, allowing opponents to complete 61 percent of their passes while throwing for an average of around 260 yards per game. Locker is the most esteemed quarterback the Irish will face, with all apologies to Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Locker put up better numbers than Tate Forcier, Kirk Cousins, or Joey Elliot. But the question still needs to be asked, why is there such universal agreement on Jake Locker?

I think the answer most likely comes from the untapped potential many see in the junior quarterback. He’s the prototype that many coaches and talent evaluators look for: great size, great speed, great arm, great athlete, but a player still rough around the edges. For scouts and coaches, it’s much more exciting to find an unfinished product, and mold him into the player they envision.

Locker presents the Irish’s stiffest test from an opposing quarterback, as he’s shown that he can beat teams in a variety of ways. Yet his past performances point out that the very talented signal-caller still has a ways to go before reaching his potential.