Jake Locker and his Washington teammates face Nebraska tonight in the Holiday Bowl in what is clearly the most intriguing re-match of the bowl season.
Locker and the Huskies were blown out 56-21 at home by the Cornhuskers on September 18. Locker only completed 4 of 20 passes in the game for 71 yards and a touchdown. He also threw two interceptions in what was the worst performance of his career.
Locker has been better since, engineering upset victories over USC, Oregon State and Cal since and leading Washington to to three consecutive wins to assure the Huskies of their first bowl berth since 2002.
He hasn't been so good, however, to expect the type of performance against Nebraska tonight that should significantly impact his draft stock.
The reality is Washington simply lacks the bulk and talent up front to protect Locker from Nebraska's formidable defensive line, led by junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and senior defensive end Pierre Allen. Making matters even more complicated for Locker, the Huskers boast arguably the best cornerback duo in the country in Prince Amukamara, NFLDraftScout.com's top rated senior prospect at any position, and junior Alfonzo Dennard, a Second Team All-Big 12 pick, who has already announced his intentions to return to Nebraska for his senior season despite the fact that he'd best - at worst - a second round pick in the 2011 draft.
Locker is blessed with a solid receiving corps, including a legitimate NFL talent in junior Jermaine Kearse, but Nebraska has the secondary to force him to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Huskies are as reliant on their wide receivers as any team in the country when it comes to the downfield passing game. Locker has only completed six passes to his tight ends all season long and saw starting tight end Chris Izbicki leave the team following the regular season. His backup, freshman Marlion Barnett, has four catches for 31 yards for his career.
If the Huskies have a chance in this game it will be due to the running of redshirt sophomore running back Chris Polk and Locker. Locker could be very decisive and accurate with the football tonight and still post ugly numbers that will undoubtedly draw criticism from media.
Having spoken to various scouts recently about Locker's stock and the expectations for him vs. Nebraska, their feeling is that Locker's stock isn't likely to go down after this game - even if he struggles just as badly against Nebraska tonight as he did in September. Of course, should Locker surprise Nebraska (and scouts) and performs very well despite the Huskies being overmatched physically at nearly every position, his stock has a chance to rise significantly.
The most likely scenario, however, has Locker and the Huskies again struggling against Nebraska. If Locker is going to re-emerge as a first round guarantee, it will almost surely happen in the next bowl -- the Senior Bowl -- approximately a month from now.
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