Jake Locker’s 2010 Heisman Trophy campaign was born on Dec. 14, 2009, when the Huskies’ quarterback – a certain early pick in the NFL draft – announced he’d return to the team as a fifth-year senior. Like a lot of campaigns, high hopes in the spring were complicated by a hard fall.
Sputtering but still salvageable two weeks into the schedule, Locker’s Heisman Trophy campaign conked out on the fourth play of the third game, when his downfield pass was intercepted. Actually, the campaign conked out before the pickoff, in mid-air, as Locker’s throw was wobbling toward the double coverage smothering Huskies receiver Devin Aguilar.
What figured to be a season-long promotional push by the UW sports marketing machine expired in the time it took to ask: “Jake? What are you thinking?”
The worst pass of Locker’s college career presaged the worst performance of his college career – he finished 4-for-20, with two interceptions – in a 56-21 defeat to Nebraska.
Although the debacle was a group effort that included lethargic route running by the receivers, shoddy pass protection by the offensive line and indifferent tackling by everybody on defense, the prevailing impression of that day in Husky Stadium is how the national discussion about Locker turned from his unintentional mystique to his unforced mistake.
Afterward, Locker, who is pleasant and cooperative for interviews but rarely volunteers sound-bite quotes, said something worthy of a double-take.
“It’s only the third game of the year,” he told reporters. “It’s only one of 13.”
Locker realized the Huskies were assured of playing only 12 regular-season games. His casual mention of a 13th game was a guarantee – subtle and understated, but nevertheless a guarantee – that his team would be extended a bowl bid.
So Locker shouldn’t have been surprised by the three-game winning streak that vaulted the Huskies into the Holiday Bowl with a 6-6 record. The surprise was learning the opponent next Thursday in San Diego will be the team responsible for derailing Locker’s Heisman campaign before it ever got on track.
The football world yawned over the prospect of a Huskies-Huskers rematch in the Holiday Bowl, and the yawning is most prevalent in Nebraska.
(Cornhuskers fans are renowned for the size and enthusiasm of their traveling parties, but a ticket for the bowl game against Washington apparently has the street value of a Styrofoam peanut in a gift package.)
Meanwhile, the prospect of a Huskies-Huskers sequel finds no yawning at Washington, where fans are looking at the 33rd Holiday Bowl as Jake Locker’s first chance at retribution. The opportunities for payback after a 56-21 embarrassment are limitless, but the opportunity awaiting Locker is the stuff of potential legend.
Bowl rematches within the same season are rare. Rematches against the team that put a star player’s Heisman Trophy bid to bed can be counted on one hand. A hand? Make it a finger.
The Holiday Bowl is so loaded with redemptive possibilities for Locker, even the Monotone Man is psyched. Well, sort of.
“If you would ask anybody...if they told you they weren’t excited, they’d be lying to you,” he said the other day of a same-season, second-chance game against an opponent that exerted its obvious, all-phases superiority in September. “It’s a great opportunity to prove that you weren’t your best the first time.”
Locker’s flaws – specifically, his struggle to read Nebraska’s defensive coverage – were exposed in September, and he soon became Exhibit A in the slide show of 2010 busts. It’s easy to forget that of the 10 most touted preseason Heisman Trophy candidates, the only player invited as a finalist to New York was Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore.
Remember Houston quarterback Case Keenum? He was in the mix, until he blew out a knee early in the season. So was Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, inconsistent until he was sidelined with a concussion.
Locker got hurt, too. He broke a rib against Stanford, on Oct. 30, and all the way through the Apple Cup, he wasn’t at full strength. A disappointing season for a Heisman Trophy hopeful, any way you look at it, and yet he still threw for 2,209 yards and 17 touchdowns, and ran for 302 yards and another five touchdowns, and earned honorable mention on Pro Football Weekly’s All-America team.
Locker sacrificed a few bucks – OK, tens of millions of them – by renouncing the draft, but his pro career has not been imperiled. He’ll get a chance to display his talents in the Senior Bowl, and he’ll wow scouts with his athleticism and temperament at the NFL scouting combine.
Put it this way: Another 4-for-20 effort against Nebraska, with two interceptions, won’t have a radical effect his draft status.
But if Jake Locker is the competitor a lot of us believe him to be, he’ll do better than 4-for-20, and his first pass won’t be a wobble thrown into double coverage.
Personal retribution is not a big deal to him – he’s not wired that way – but there’s a reason to pay attention to the Holiday Bowl.
The quarterback who lost his Heisman Trophy campaign to Nebraska has a chance to remind everybody why he was candidate in the first place.
Take a seat. He might put on a show.