Dark mid-September day. Long road ahead.
Very often in the hours after a game such as Saturday – a 56-21 Nebraska wallop over the Huskies – when the processing begins, usually the dimness lightens and the positives aren't so hidden among the gloom.
On the forefront:
•Punter Kiel Rasp was good in his second start, eh?
• Running back Jesse Callier sure shows more than a burst to get by NCAA Division I defenders, wouldn't you say?
• No long-snap snafus by Brendan Lopez. Good to see.
Let's recap where the rest of it stands: Just because the defense had been the "star" unit (I use that term loosely) through the first two games did not mean it was ready to lead this team where it was headed – which these days is a bit uncertain.
I hear endless gripes about the defense. What were REALLY the expectations heading in 2010? No established defensive linemen except Cameron Elisara, one pretty darned good linebacker in Mason Foster, one really good cornerback in Desmond Trufant and the unspectacular steadiness of strong safety Nate Williams.
By in large, with these four in tow – and others such as middle linebacker Cort Dennison and defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu – this unit has pretty much met its modest projections, dismal Saturday showing notwithstanding.
Special teams are what they are … loaded with young, mistake-riddled talent whose better days are ahead (way beyond 2010).
So, what's left?
The guys supposedly astute at moving the ball.
Jake Locker and his peeps – powerful as any in the Pacific-10 Conference.
Tweaks to the offensive line will be ongoing, and likely a focus again this bye week. Looks like the Erik Kohler switch to starting left guard will stick; coaches want to give him an extended look. Colin Porter might not be far behind as the Huskies try and get bigger up front.
No issues whatsoever with Chris Polk and Callier, who continue to run hard, even when it is into a wall of defenders.
No tight end presence, but that was pretty much a foregone conclusion after Kavario Middleton was dismissed and enrolled at Montana.
The receiving corps is good, not GREAT. Don't read too much into Jermaine Kearse's stinker game Saturday, he's arguably still the offense's best weapon. Devin Aguilar is a high-grade performer. James Johnson is sorely missed, as mentioned in a post Friday.
What about Locker?
Right now, the UW is the third-worst passing offense in the conference at 209.7 yards per game. The Huskies are completing every other pass, on average. Their 6.8-yard-per-reception average is also third-worst in the league.
Locker is No. 9 in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency at 127.1, just ahead of Arizona State first-year starter Ryan Katz (yes, WSU's Jeff Tuel is ahead of him). He is completing 51.1 percent of his passes.
On Saturday, Locker arguably had his worst day in a UW uniform, going 4-of-20 for 71 yards and two interceptions.
"He was going against a great pass defense and I think he wanted to come out and play well like he does every week," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "With that comes a little pressure, but pressure is natural and that's what great athletes, they thrive on it and accept it and love it and I don't think any differently of Jake, I think the same way. Can he play better than he played (Saturday)? Sure he can, and he will throughout the season and we've got to continue to work to put him in situations to give him opportunities to perform at a high level and to his capabilities."
For now, pile on the appropriate terms: Regression? Reversion? Confusion?
"I don't ever like to refer to it as a step back," said Sarkisian, talking about the offense as a whole Saturday.
All I could think about watching the game unfold – watching Nebraska's Taylor Martinez make it look so easy on his side, and things be so alarmingly stressful for Locker – one question kept popping in my head?
Square peg, round hole?
I would venture to say, very few people would disagree with me – wouldn't Locker running the read-option of a Nebraska or Oregon be a pretty cool thing to see on college Saturday?
It will never happen, because UW coach Steve Sarkisian is all about professional/NFL Sunday for his quarterbacks.
That's fine; it's his offense and he's the boss (heck, maybe the UW wouldn't have the best personnel to run that scheme anyway). But the more Locker struggles in his second season in a pro-style offense, the more the bottom line becomes obvious.
Until Locker can break through his lull – a plateau – the UW's season will continue to hang in the balance.
Maybe we all put too much stock is his GIANT LEAP forward in the final two games of 2009. He was simply stunning. Unflappable, like a potential No. 1 NFL Draft choice would be.
Right now, he's making underclassman mistakes – throwing into double coverage with no pressure, throwing anywhere but the intended receiver in the face of pressure (you analyze the mechanics, I just know they are not as sound as they were during the hot stretch).
Right now, he's does not walk around like a confident quarterback. He does not ACT like a confident quarterback.
And right now, No. 10 looks like No. 10 – the least-productive quarterback in the Pac-10.