Yesterday I managed to re-watch the Washington-USC game from last year when the Huskies managed to upset the then #3 ranked Trojans. Jake Locker was my main focus, but I noted some things about other players also. Here is my analysis of what I saw:
Locker was impressive in this game. He wasn’t amazing, but he was pretty good. He has good arm strength and zip on all of his passes and has impressive accuracy. When he sets his feet or even at times on the run he can put the ball wherever he wants it. He has impressive athleticism and toughness, though I waited the majority of the game for him to step into a throw knowing he was going to take a big hit. He has come a long way since his freshman year in terms of his footwork, but he still has a ways to go. He looks more comfortable in his drops, but still needs to clean them up a bit. Once he sets his feet, he needs to step into the vast majority of his throws which he does not do right now. When he does he delivers accurate passes almost every time, but when he doesn’t it is much more of a toss-up. He can throw accurate passes off his back foot or off-balance which is why he can get away with it, but he needs to learn to step into more of his throws even if it means taking a hit for it at times. Those are his major issues with footwork, and I didn’t see any instances of him having trouble with his release, it looked clean the whole game.
He still has a tendency to throw some balls into coverage or force passes across his body or when he is off-balance, which is a bit of an issue. But there were plenty of signs that he has matured in this area as well. I doubt he will ever be a 100% pure polished QB in that he doesn’t take some chances, perhaps similar to Brett Favre, but I think there is more room for him to grow in this area before he leaves for the NFL. It will be interesting to see what strides he takes in this regard as a senior, and if he took any significant ones as the year went on in 2009 when he was a junior.
One thing I really want to see Locker work on is using his eyes and going through his progressions better. One thing he didn’t do very well in this game was to go through two or three of his progressions before he looked to scramble. At times the protection just wasn’t there so he was flushed out of the pocket, but there were times when he would look at his first read and then start to roll out to buy more time unnecessarily. This is something he did less than he used to, but it was still something that warranted mentioning. He needs to work on that to be sure. But one thing that he only flashed the ability to do was to look off the defense with his eyes and then deliver a throw to an open receiver that he intended to throw to the entire time. He showed this ability a few times, but he threw the ball 30+ times and he only did this four or maybe five times. I would like to see him do this much more often as a senior, and it will be interesting to see if he does a better job of going through his progressions and of looking off defenders in later games as a junior. But this was one thing that I really thought he needed to work on.
Overall, I am happy with how Locker looked in this game, though I think he could have been much better than he was. It will be interesting to see how he looks in later games from his junior year and how he looks in his upcoming senior season.
I also paid attention to a few other players, though not as closely as I paid attention to Locker. One of the players that just kept showing up was Jurell Casey, a DT on USC. He routinely beat his man and penetrated into the backfield. He had at least two TFL’s versus the run, and a number of stops for limited gains versus the run. On top of that he helped flush Locker from the pocket multiple times, and his pressure allowed Everson Griffen to clean up Locker and get a sack in the 1st quarter. He was very impressive in this game, and I am very much looking forward to seeing him in this upcoming season. He is definitely going to be high on my DT rankings when I come out with them.
I also noted how redshirt-freshman RB Chris Polk looked. He had some running lanes at times, and showed pretty reliable hands out of the backfield, but he didn’t have a great game as far as I could tell. There were a lot of rushing attempts Polk had that were good for losses or very limited gains. I didn’t note exactly why he wasn’t effective, but generally I think USC’s defensive line just won the battle against Washington’s offensive line often. He didn’t dance around in the backfield or try to bounce too many runs outside, so I don’t pin those short or negative gains on him.
Locker’s favorite target on the day seemed to be James Johnson, a freshman WR last year. He had a lot of catches in this game, and routinely made big catches for first downs whether he was in traffic or if he got open. He made a terrific catch on the sidelines with a defender draped over him on a 3rd and long on a perfect throw from Locker. He impressed me all game, though I did not pay attention to his blocking. He caught the ball with his hands away from his frame instead of letting the ball come into his pads in every specific catch that I remember from the game. He looks like he has a lot of potential, so it will be exciting to see how he develops this season as a sophomore.
So that about does it. Hopefully you enjoyed reading my thoughts on how the various players from this game looked. I am excited to see all of them again this year, and had Matt Barkley been healthy for this game I would have watched him very closely as well. I will have a write-up on him eventually, probably for more than one game.
Thanks for reading!