So who knew all those seemingly through-the-roof expectations for Jake Locker, and the immediate impact he could have on the Washington...
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — So who knew all those seemingly through-the-roof expectations for Jake Locker, and the immediate impact he could have on the Washington Huskies, might have actually been too low?
That’s what it was tempting to think, anyway, after a debut performance that has to rank as one of the most impressive in UW history as Locker ran, passed and willed the Huskies to a shockingly easy 42-12 win over the host Syracuse Orange in front of an announced crowd of 40,329 at the Carrier Dome on Friday night.
“It wasn’t perfect,” said UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. “But it was pretty close to what we wanted to do.”
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Maybe it will turn out that Syracuse, which is picked to finish last in the Big East this year and looked very capable of living down to that prediction, is a really bad team.
But for a night, anyway, everything it was thought Locker could bring to the Huskies was on full display.
After a ragged start on his first two drives, Locker found his groove and led the Huskies to five consecutive touchdowns (excepting a one-play possession to end the first half) covering 80, 80, 70, 70 and 80 yards.
“I think he was pretty amped up, and the ball sailed on him early,” Lappano said. “But I knew he would settle down.”
Locker did his work so well that he left after three quarters, having rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries, and completing 14 of 19 passes for 142 yards in expertly conducting a UW offense redesigned to take advantage of his array of talents.
While the surprisingly easy win might have caught even the most optimistic of Huskies fans off-guard, UW coach Tyrone Willingham was unsurprised.
“We expected to do what we did,” he said.
And of Locker, Willingham said, “I think he can do better.” Willingham said Locker missed on a few reads.
About the most Willingham would allow is that the game showed that the Huskies “are just a faster team. This is the most speed we’ve had on the field in three years.”
Locker likewise downplayed his performance, calling it simply “a good start.”
But for a Huskies fan base deadened from three consecutive losing seasons, Locker’s debut might also have served as a rebirth of hope.
Locker was hardly alone, however, in providing optimism for the season.
Senior running back Louis Rankin had a career-high 147 yards on 17 carries, scoring three touchdowns as the Huskies scored six on the ground for the night, already half of their season total a year ago.
With UW trailing 3-0, Rankin turned in a highlight-reel run that finally got the Huskies on track, escaping a tackle attempt by Syracuse linebacker Ben Maljovec about 5 yards behind the line, then reversing field and picking up 17 yards.
“I just went outside, and I felt like I wasn’t going to let them tackle me,” Rankin said. “It was all blocked up on the other side, so I just ran over there.”
Said Locker: “It’s always great when you are struggling and someone makes a play like he did tonight. It jump-started us.”
Rankin capped that drive with a 13-yard run to put UW ahead 7-3 early in the second quarter. With the Huskies beginning to gain confidence, Locker finished the next drive with a 1-yard run; UW was ahead 14-6 at halftime.
The Huskies then got the ball to start the third quarter and Rankin promptly sprinted 47 yards for another score to make it 21-6 and send Syracuse fans racing for the exits.
“Jake brought a lot of attention to himself, and that opened up the run a lot,” Rankin said.
Two more long drives capped by a Locker 8-yard run and a Rankin 20-yard run made it 35-6 to end the third quarter and also end the night for both players as the Huskies won a road opener for the first time since 1998. It was the widest margin of victory in a road opener since a 42-7 win over Stanford in 1991.
“Obviously there are a lot of smiles, but this was a first game,” said Willingham, recognizing that much tougher tasks lie ahead, including a home date next Saturday with Boise State.
But there was almost nothing not to like.
The Huskies dominated on both lines, outgaining Syracuse 444-207, and outrushing the Orange 302-8.
UW had seven sacks, two by Greyson Gunheim and 1 ½ from suddenly emerging senior Caesar Rayford.
The inexperienced secondary, a focus of so much scrutiny through fall camp, allowed only one gain of longer than 16 yards.
The two new kickers were each flawless. And the Huskies didn’t have a turnover.
But history will remember this game for Locker.
“I don’t want to say that the guy’s going to win the Heisman Trophy,” said teammate Jordan Reffett, a defensive tackle. “But he’s going to go out there and make plays for the Huskies, and I’m just excited about it.”
He’s hardly alone.