Jake Locker Is Steve Sarkisian's Spencer Hawes

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As P-I columnist Art Thiel noted after the Huskies' disgusting 56-21 home loss to Nebraska, you have to go back over 30 years to find a prominent local athlete who failed so miserably on a national stage as UW quarterback Jake Locker did Saturday. Completing just four of 20 passes en route to effectively ending his Heisman candidacy, Locker's ineptitude was made worse by the brilliant play of Cornhusker signal-caller Taylor Martinez, a freshman with a very Locker-like skillset who both threw and ran for over 100 yards. "Until Locker can move the offense with ordinary passes and ordinary catches, the season will be a struggle," wroteThiel. The problem is, "ordinary" has never been Locker's strong suit, and until he throws his last pass as a Husky, his extraordinary talents will continue to hamper head coach Steve Sarkisian's offensive vision for the program, much like Spencer Hawes did during his lone year at Hec Ed under head basketball coach Lorenzo Romar.

As with Locker, when the Huskies landed Hawes, a seven-foot center out of Seattle Prep, his arrival was heralded as a potential program-changer. It was: Romar's Huskies, a perennial postseason contender who'd previously made a name for themselves as an ultra-durable squad of indefatigable little pressers and gunners, altered their offense to accommodate the post presence of Hawes. The results were extraordinarily disappointing, with the team barely finishing over .500 and missing the NCAA tournament. Hawes bailed for the NBA at year's end, leaving 6'7" Jon Brockman as the lone remaining post presence. Armed with a familiarly undersized flotilla of charges, Romar promptly led the Huskies to their first outright Pac-10 title in half-a-century.

Romar brought the awkward season of Hawes upon himself, while Sarkisian inherited Locker from Tyrone Willingham. Sarkisian piloted a drop-back, pro-style attack as offensive coordinator at USC before taking the UW gig. With Locker, he's implemented a mutt style that occasionally takes advantage of Jake's legs while frequently shoehorning him into more traditional formations.

While Locker has shown flashes of competence in this scheme, it suits neither coach nor quarterback. Only when Locker finds a team willing to tailor an entire system to his unique strengths--the most obvious parallel being the Atlanta Falcons' utilization of Michael Vick, back before he shifted his focus to dogfighting--will he reach his full potential. And only when Sarkisian has the freedom to start a quarterback who's content to stay in the pocket--that'll likely be next year, when Nick Montana takes over--will Husky fans be afforded an unblemished glimpse of what the young Armenian with the headset can do.

 
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