Jermaine Kearse is a sneaky good receiver approaching sneaky great. And right now, he's the most dangerous of Jake Locker's offensive weapons and the primary reason the Washington football team's season isn't in a ditch this morning.
Jermaine Kearse fools you every time.
Think you know his game, and he adds another dimension. Think you appreciate him plenty, and he makes a deeper impression. Think you know his flaws, and he erases them.
He’s a sneaky good receiver approaching sneaky great. And right now, he’s the most dangerous of Jake Locker’s offensive weapons and the primary reason the Washington football team’s season isn’t in a ditch this morning.
Kearse enjoyed the best game of his college career Saturday against Syracuse. He caught nine passes for 179 yards and scored three touchdowns, including a game-changing 57-yard romp that turned a close game into a decisive 41-20 triumph at Husky Stadium.
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He was, consistently, the best player on the field. He was dominant. He was indefensible, even when the Orange defense focused on him.
The evolution of Kearse has been astounding. No one saw this coming. Not even his coach.
“It’s night and day,” said Steve Sarkisian, when asked to compare this Kearse to the one he inherited two years ago. “I didn’t give him enough credit when I first had him. I thought he was a nice, smart player, a nice catcher. I didn’t realize he had as much versatility as he really has in his game, and that’s a credit for him to continue to work at it.
“You have to remember he didn’t start the first three, four games last year. He’s earned everything he’s gotten. Very proud of him. He embodies a lot of the characteristics we would love all of our players to embody.”
Consider where Kearse stood a year ago. During the 2009 season opener against LSU, he didn’t play much and caught two passes for 12 yards. He had endured a bad case of the drops during that preseason and lost his chance to start. You knew he was a good player, but could he be consistent enough to be trusted?
Kearse ignored the thought and kept working. He proved to be clutch in a Week 3 victory over USC last year, and since then, he has been on the ascent. He wound up catching 50 passes in 2009 and was second-team All-Pac-10.
But Kearse and his coaches wanted more. Kearse, Sarkisian and wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty agreed on the next step: Kearse needed to improve his yards after the catch.
As good as he was in 2009, Kearse was considered more of an outside threat. He was the guy Locker could throw deep passes to and expect Kearse to use his athleticism to make highlight-reel receptions. But could he catch passes in the flat and break tackles? Could he do damage in the middle of the field?
In this game, those questions were answered.
“I mean, everything he was doing was yards after the catch,” Sarkisian marveled.
Kearse caught his first touchdown pass when Locker drilled a 5-yard pass to him in the end zone. But his next two scores showed his improvement the most. On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, he took a pass in the flat, made a couple of defenders miss and raced down the Syracuse sidelines for a 57-yard score that put the Huskies up 20-10. Eight minutes later, he did the same thing — with the help of a nice block by fellow receiver D’Andre Goodwin — on a 28-yard score to give Washington a 27-10 lead.
At last, all the practice had yielded results. Kearse spent so much time focusing on running hard after catches in practice, getting stronger and developing a mentality that he could score on any play. So, once again, he’s showing another layer of his talent.
“I definitely think I’ve grown up a lot,” Kearse said of his maturation. “I just want to make the best of my opportunities. This is something I’ve put on myself to get better at, and I pride myself on being a playmaker.”
At times, Kearse has been the offense in the first two games. He has 14 receptions, 287 yards and four touchdowns. But his first game was deceiving. He played well the previous week against Brigham Young (five catches, 108 yards, one touchdown), but he also dropped three passes that prevented him from having a monster game.
But on Saturday, when the UW offense hiccupped early, Kearse got them going. He spurred Locker’s fine performance. He helped this team put up 467 total yards, which is the kind of performance you thought this group could have.
Don’t expect Kearse to be too enthusiastic about this showing, however. He’s a mild-mannered, understated kid. He talks low and smiles little. All the better for him to fool you.
“Oh, it feels good,” Kearse said of his banner day. “I definitely want to get better. I’m not complacent with it. I want to have bigger days. But it’ll do for now.”
You could say that about this win, too.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
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