Locker experiences growing pains

SEATTLE — Quarterback Jake Locker made his Husky Stadium debut on Saturday, and it was a thing of beauty in the early minutes.

There were a few blemishes later on most notably, a careless fumble on a keeper and then a poor secondary read that led to an interception but the kid still did enough good things to help the Huskies win for the second week in a row, this time a 24-10 decision against Boise State.

Locker, who was almost flawless in last week’s 42-12 season-opener at Syracuse, was decidedly more freshman-like against the Broncos. He opened the game with a dandy touchdown drive of 78 yards Locker passed for 18 yards and rushed for 36 more, including the final 6 yards on a carry up the middle, hauling three defenders with him but then went the rest of the way with about as many good moments as bad.

Even on the opening drive, he threw two passes into the hands of defenders that fortunately fell incomplete.

Locker finished with 13 competition on 25 passing attempts for 193 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and a team-best 84 rushing yards on 16 carries with another TD. But there were also errant throws to open receivers (in fairness, those same receivers also dropped some) and the offense sputtered to a near halt in the second half, managing just 119 yards and no points.

In other words, even though the youngster was impressive at times, most of the people around the UW program including Locker himself expect better.

“Obviously I didn’t play a perfect game today,” he said. “I made some mistakes and I need to clean that up.”

Or as offensive coordinator Tim Lappano put it, “He took a step back, but that’s going to be a part of this process.”

Still, the remarkable thing about Locker is the way he reacts to his own miscues.

“He’s always upbeat and positive,” Lappano said. “He’s not one to hang his head and get upset. He just goes on to the next play, like the great ones do. Like Tiger Woods in golf. If he hits one out of bounds, he knows he’s got to make a good play on the next one. And that’s how (Locker) reacts.”

“The biggest thing about Jake is that regardless of his situation, he stays constant, he stays the same,” said Luke Huard, a UW graduate assistant who works with quarterbacks and a former college QB himself. “A lot of players, if they make a mistake, they’ll sometimes shy away a little bit. But that’s not Jake at all. He’s going to play his game, whether he’s throwing three touchdowns or three interceptions. And with some of the adverse situations we had today, I thought he did a nice job of battling back.”

Locker’s first-quarter fumble came when he was stripped as he held the ball loosely in one arm on a keeper. That needs to be corrected, Lappano said, though not to the point of curbing Locker’s aggressiveness.

“Jake is a warrior-type competitor out there,” Lappano said. “And to take that out of a guy, that’s going to be hard. He’s such a competitor and he runs with reckless abandon, and he’s also 225 pounds and he’s strong and he’s trained for (running with the football) and that’s what he wants to do. And he’s too big of a weapon for us not to use him in that way.”

“He’s the type of kid you have to cut loose,” Huard agreed. “As athletically gifted as he is, you have to let him play.”

Some of Locker’s mistakes probably showed up because Boise State was a better team than Syracuse last week. The Broncos slowed Washington’s running game, particularly in the second half, and they pestered Locker with a more persistent pass rush.

The Broncos “made it hard on a guy who hasn’t played a lot,” Lappano said.

Also, the Huskies became more conservative in their second-half play selection, given their two-touchdown lead.

But the bottom line, Lappano said, “is that he’ll get better. And a lot of good things will happen to him this year. … He’s a special guy. They don’t come around like this very often.

“He’s amazing. His parents have obviously done a great job of raising him because he’s the compete package. A very positive, upbeat guy who likes to win at everything he does.”

“I definitely don’t expect to have up and down games,” Locker said. “But mistakes happen. It’s part of the game. You’re not going to be perfect every day.”

And although “we didn’t play our best game, what matters is that we came up with a victory,” he said.

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