Continued to see a lot of the same promise in the University of Washington's running game this week against Idaho that was evident against No. 11 Louisiana State.
Running back Chris Polk continues to be a bullet up the middle, challenging linebackers and getting in his licks. The slimmed-down offensive line is displaying more athleticism and burst pulling out. The tackles are pulling, giving Polk those middle gaps to run through.
And, dare it be said, quarterback Jake Locker is on pace for more than 400 yards, and is a good bet to increase that projection heading into Pacific-10 Conference play (there's a running joke among a few of us reporters at practice, that with all the sophistication coach Steve Sarkisian has brought to the offense, the best design in his playbook is still the "Locker Run").
Polk is sixth in the Pac-10 in rushing (170 rushing yards, TD). The UW is tied for seventh in rushing (278). Not impressive on the surface, but as we all know in football, it's the "threat" of something that opens something else, and the Huskies are No. 1 in passing (287) and third-down conversion (66.7 percent rate).
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But it's not perfect. Sarkisian would be the first to say that. So would running backs coach Joel Thomas. And here are a couple of concerns heading into the USC game:
• Is Polk's style conducive to becoming a successful 20-carry-per-game running back?
No problem with Polk being the feature tailback. He earned that spot with a great fall camp. He talks tough, and backs it up. He catches the ball. He adds versatility to the offense.
But the Huskies do need another ground-gaining running back too emerge.
Johri Fogerson had just two carries against Idaho. That is too few, especially considering he's a bigger running back, and could absorb some of the punishment Polk is taking.
And what is behind that duo? Curtis Shaw, another home-run threat.
For all the splitting out that fullback Paul Homer does – Sarkisian explained the benefit of that is that defenses tend to show hints of coverage plans when Homer is out there – why does he not take 3-5 carries per game? He is an NFL-caliber fullback.
The pounding on Polk takes its toll. Being around the guys all week, we see the bruises and the slow, gimpy walk around Hec Edmundson Pavilion before practice. He's game. He's usually a full participant at practice. But how much can the sophomore from Redlands, Calif. take?
• Short, or no-yardage runs.
The UW's third-down conversion is rate, especially considering many of them are on third-and-7 plays and longer. Sarkisian knows that can't keep up.
What would aid that is getting more consistency out of rushing attempts than what they've had.
The breakout of Polk's 40 carries in two games is kind of odd. He's had seven runs or 10 or more yards, showing, indeed, he is a big-play threat.
But he's had 17 carries where he's gained 1 yards or less. Seven of those carries are for negative-yardage.
The factors for that are wide-ranging. Part of it is who Polk is – he's not a bruiser, even though he's strong for his size (5-foot-11, 210 pounds). Part of it is conservative play-calling, at times, even though Sarkisian has been splendid in keeping defenses off balance, for the most part. And some of it is protection breakdown and missed assignments.
No rushing offense is going to be great if almost half the No. 1 tailback's carries go for that kind of lack of production, or even minus-yards. And with USC's aggressive defense coming to a town, and a coach who knows Sarkisian's play-calling tendencies better than anybody, the Huskies need to shore that up moving forward.