Why Jake Locker and the Huskies Aren't Just Smoke and Mirrors

Quan BradfordContributor ISeptember 21, 2009

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head coach Steve Sarkisian of the Washington Huskies talks with quarterback Jake Locker #10 during the game against the USC Trojans on September 19, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Huskies defeated the Trojans 16-13. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

It's a trap game. It's a trap game. 

Pete Carroll and his Trojans heard the phrase numerous times from the moment his team walked out of the Horseshoe with a victory. 

Then came the news that quarterback Matt Barkley and safety Taylor Mays would not be playing against Washington, leading many experts to discuss the very real threat of an upset in Seattle. Plus, the Trojans have been known to have letdowns in the past against lesser foes.

It was all drawn up perfectly. But it happened anyway.

Erik Folk nailed a winning field goal with three seconds remaining to seal the upset on Saturday, and it was pandemonium at Husky Stadium.

Almost immediately, the critics were quick to jump all over new Southern Cal starter Aaron Corp, who did next to nothing in his first start of the season. Only a month ago he was penciled in as the Trojans' starter, but now he proved Pete Carroll is a genius.

For selecting Barkley, of course.

He threw for a pedestrian 110 yards and added an interception for good measure. He barely completed half of his passes when all he really needed to do was give the ball to white-hot Joe McKnight, who averaged more than nine yards per carry.

Although two of the three USC turnovers weren't his fault—as the team lost two fumbles inside the Washington 20—the bulk of the blame lands on his shoulders. The Trojans were 19-point favorites for a reason.

But, while it's easy to say that the heavily favored team lost the game, it can also be said that Washington quarterback Jake Locker won it.

There's no denying that the Huskies' defense also played a terrific game. And no denying Locker's final drive. The Huskies, who had a 2nd-and-22 from their own 21-yard line, drove all the way into field goal range. The drive featured two incredible completions to Jermaine Kearse, one that saw Locker sprinting to his right and throwing off his back foot.

They overcame a sack, a false start penalty, and two third-down situations with the game on the line. And did it against one of the best defenses around, with or without Mays.

It's time to take Washington seriously once more.

While it is hard to say that new head coach Steve Sarkisian has turned his program into a winner after three games, he hasn't done much wrong. His team has already faced two top-10 caliber teams in 2009 and performed admirably well against both.

The LSU Tigers, a team picked by many as the one who could potentially knock off No. 1 Florida, was supposed to blow Washington out of the water on opening weekend. That didn't happen. In fact, had it not been for several untimely drops by Washington receivers late in the game, the Huskies could have knocked off the Bayou Bengals too.

The Huskies gave LSU everything it could handle in an opening game. Jordan Jefferson and Terrance Toliver needed to be at their best to leave Seattle with a victory.

But for a team that had now lost 15 straight, moral victories were hard to come by.

Sarkisian and Locker, however, did get their first victory, in very predictable fashion over annual Pac-10 punching bag Idaho.

And now, a last-second victory over the seven-time reigning league champions. What does it all add up to?

Apparently, a spot in the AP Top 25.

The ranking may seem a little unmerited, as the Huskies haven't played a game away from home yet and and their best performance of the year so far was delivered after USC's offense did very little. 

They are a lot more than smoke and mirrors. No illusions from Sarkisian; his team is for real. 

This team will continue to improve as well. The more games under a new pro-style offense will help the team immensely as it heads on the road to Stanford and Notre Dame. While we won't have a great idea of how good this team actually is until the Sunday after the game in South Bend, there is always one thing to see.

This bunch comes to play every Saturday.

It's not just Locker, either. Chris Polk has been a consistent runner. Kearse and fellow wideout James Johnson are incredibly underrated for what they bring to the table on a weekly basis. They have both shown after three games they are excellent at finding a way to get open.

They might not have the overall team talent to snatch a title away from Cal or USC, but a bowl berth would be a tremendous cap off one of the finest turnarounds in NCAA football history. 

Fans in Washington finally have a reason to cheer again. 

Now, about those Cougars...


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