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Originally published November 28, 2009 at 7:22 PM | Page modified November 28, 2009 at 10:01 PM

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Steve Kelley

Apple Cup performance is just what we expected from Jake Locker

This was Jake Locker being Jake Locker. This was the combination of speed, smarts and power Washington needs from him, every quarter, every Saturday.

Seattle Times staff columnist

In the waning moments of a predictably lopsided Apple Cup, Jake Locker looked like the best athlete in the state. He looked exactly like the player every purple-blooded Huskies fan expected him to be.

Rolling to his right, looking downfield, the Washington quarterback accelerated near the line of scrimmage, committing himself to the run. Smartly he set up the only block he needed, turned the corner and sprinted into the front corner of the end zone for an exclamation-point touchdown.

This was Jake Locker being Jake Locker. This was the combination of speed, smarts and power Washington needs from him, every quarter, every Saturday.

By this point in his sometimes-snake-bitten career, most fans probably were expecting more from Jake Locker.

Maybe that's unfair, but the junior quarterback was expected to be able to win games almost by himself. Win games with his deadly combination of running-back speed and NFL arm.

Win enough games that Washington would be a serious bowl contender and he would be a serious Heisman Trophy candidate year after year.

And there have been moments when he looked as if he was up to the task.

The final drive in September's upset of USC., for instance, or the October shootout with Jimmy Clausen in the gathering darkness, a loss in overtime, at Notre Dame.

But now, nearing the end of his third season with Washington, after losing eight games to a broken thumb last season, Locker has been very good, but he hasn't been great.

Too often he has lingered in the pocket when he seemingly could run forever. He has stayed with the pass when the open field has begged him to take off.

Too often Locker hasn't been Locker.

But in Saturday's strangely ho-hum Apple Cup, it was almost as if Locker had an epiphany. He played the way most of us have expected him to play since he arrived at Montlake. He used his improvisational skills. He turned on his sprinter's speed.

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He looked like he was having the time of his life, playing the game loose and free and easily.

In the first possession of the second half, Locker masterfully marched the Huskies 75 yards. He took advantage of the chunks of open spaces the overmatched Cougars' defense gave him.

Locker broke loose for runs of 16 and 11 yards. He converted a fourth-and-two pass to Paul Homer. He ate up almost seven minutes, took 12 plays and put the Huskies ahead 20-0.

On another drive that began late in the third quarter and finished with a field goal early in the fourth, Locker had runs of 18 and 16 yards.

As Apple Cups go, Saturday's 30-0 Huskies win over the Cougars was a tame affair. There were no jaw-dropping blunders in the final seconds. No fairy-tale finishes. There were no weather issues or crowd-control problems.

There has been enough strangeness in this game in recent years to fill a year's worth of programming on the Discovery Channel. Enough head-scratching defensive breakdowns to get coaches fired.

But Locker made this Apple Cup feel downright sane. He went back to the future. He just played football.

In the second quarter, he began removing the stains from the past two Apple Cup losses. Leading 3-0 against a Cougars defense that had allowed 40-plus points in five straight conference games, he took Washington 85 yards in a flash.

He scrambled for an 11-yard gain, hit Jermaine Kearse in stride with a pass good for 24 yards. Then he tossed a perfect parabola to Kearse, who got behind the Cougars' Terrence Hayward and Aire Justin, for a 50-yard touchdown.

Locker finished his first Apple Cup victory, running for 94 yards and throwing for 196 more.

Nobody, including Locker, knows if this will be his final Apple Cup. Nobody knows how high he could go in next April's NFL draft, or how many millions might be thrown at him.

But Saturday's Apple Cup showed just how good a college quarterback he can be.

And it made all of those who have been watching him and wondering why he doesn't take off when the opportunities have presented themselves hope he stays around for one more season, when Washington could compete for a bowl and Locker could compete for a Heisman.

Imagine a full season of Jake being Jake.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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