By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
LOS ANGELES — The nation had lost faith in Jake Locker.
The University of Washington football team never did.
The Huskies’ senior quarterback put aside a 4-for-20 passing performance in his last outing, buried a season-opening loss that saw him throw an interception on the final drive and shook off injuries incurred earlier in Saturday’s game before doing what the college football world has been waiting to see him do.
Locker finally put together a game-winning 62-yard drive in a signature victory of his senior season.
After completing 24 of 40 passes, including a fourth-down completion on the game-winning drive, for 310 yards in helping lead the Huskies to a last-second 32-31 win over USC on Saturday night, Locker took the two-week taste of bitterness that followed a blowout loss to Nebraska out of more than a few mouths.
“It was a tough outing, for all of us, two weeks ago,” Locker said Saturday night, after he passed for 310 yards and rushed for 110 more. “To come out and start the Pac-10 this way means a lot to our football team.”
Not that Locker needed to regain the faith of his teammates. Even before the victory, the Huskies continued to praise their quarterback. But seeing him lead them to a last-second win in a tough environment only fortified his reputation in the UW locker room.
“He believes in himself, we believe in him, and I think he’s still the best quarterback in the nation — regardless,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “And he proved it (Saturday night), that he can come back no matter what people are saying about him. No matter what the odds are against him, he’s going to lead us to victory. Jake stepped up and made big plays, and we fed off him.”
Locker’s evening did not come without its share of lumps.
His longest run of the day, a 50-yarder down the left sideline, ended in heartbreak when USC defender Shareece Wright caught Locker from behind and forced a fumble at the Trojans’ 5-yard line.
In the third quarter, Locker got his bell rung and also got the wind knocked out of him while diving for a first down at the USC 1-yard line.
Locker, who was on the sidelines when backup Keith Price threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chris Izbicki for the go-ahead score, overcame it all and led a heroic game-winning drive in the end.
“What a performance by No. 10 — legendary,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said, referring to Locker. “Those are games when legends are made. I couldn’t be happier for the young man. … He showed us how big his heart was tonight, that’s for sure.”
The most important play of the drive came on a fourth-and-11 completion to senior D’Andre Goodwin for 18 yards and a first down.
Before that play, Locker had a message for his teammates.
“I got in the huddle and said: ‘I love you guys. We’ve got one more down to continue this drive and give ourselves a chance to win this game,’” Locker told reporters after the game. “There wasn’t one guy in the huddle who didn’t think we could do it. I looked in all the guys’ eyes, there was confidence in each and every guy, and I’m convinced that’s why we were able to complete it.”
Locker finished the drive with an eight-yard run on third-and-5 to put the Huskies in position for Erik Folk to make the game-winning, 32-yard field goal as time expired.
“To come into this stadium and win against this football team, in this fashion, it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
And to see Locker bounce back from some earlier failures was, for UW fans, even better.
“I just think he’s continuing to grow as a quarterback,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t really dwell on what didn’t happen; I just know that he got it done (Saturday) night.”