For the past three years, contests between the Cal Golden Bears and Washington Huskies have amounted to running back showcases.
In 2006 , Cal pulled out a wild, come-from-behind 31-24 victory on the back of Marshawn Lynch—who recorded 150 yards on the ground, as well as go-ahead scores in the fourth quarter and overtime.
A year later, in the penultimate game of the Bears' second-half tailspin, host Washington ran up 334 yards on Cal—headlined by 224 from Louis Rankin.
Jahvid Best more than returned the favor back in Berkeley last season, as he racked up a school-record 311 yards in barely three quarters of work against the hapless Huskies.
And even with Best out for this game, both teams come in this year with solid ground attacks—Washington's freshman Chris Polk is a 1,000-yard rusher this season, while Stanford was the latest school to discover that Shane Vereen is no slouch.
But with both schools bringing in suspect pass defenses (Cal ranks 108th nationally, Washington 94th), this weekend's matchup at Husky Stadium will likely put Kevin Riley and Jake Locker on display.
Indeed, both quarterbacks have a chance to make big statements on Saturday as they face eachother for the very first time.
Locker will be performing this weekend to determine his draft status—or whether he even elects to go pro after 2009 at all. His athleticism and prototypical NFL size make him a very intriguing prospect, while his injury history may add some incentive for him to test the draft waters following his junior year.
It's not hard to see how important Locker is to the Huskies' success; after being voted to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team in 2007 and nearly beating BYU in the second game of 2008, he suffered a season-ending injury against Stanford that left Washington sputtering towards a winless season.
During Sarkisian's debut season, in which the Huskies are one freak play away from fighting for bowl contention, the conference's second leading passer has led his team with both his feet and his arm—rushing for 92 yards and a score in a win over Arizona, and going 4-4 during the game-winning drive against USC.
However, there are still questions about his accuracy (11 interceptions in 2009) that he begin to answer with a solid showing this weekend.
While Locker will try to catch the eyes of scouts, his counterpart Kevin Riley must impress a (potentially) tougher group of critics: his own fans.
From the very beginning of the season, it was said that Cal would go in the direction of its signal-caller , and that prediction has played out accurately.
In the Bears' nine wins, Riley has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes, while tossing 15 touchdowns to just four picks. During all three of Cal's lopsided losses, he has looked just as bad—a 43.8 completion percentage, with just one score and two interceptions.
And though he has admirably helped the Bears rebound from their national punch-line status after Oregon and USC—going 5-1 and leading gritty road comebacks over Arizona State and then No. 14 Stanford—a solid performance from start to finish against a dangerous Washington club could give Cal fans some more confidence about him as quarterback heading into 2010.
Will Riley finish off his regular season on a high note? Will Locker make the best of what may be his final NFL audition? The series' first quarterback match-up in quite some time should help provide answers.
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