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Spaulding Roundup: Locker Showing Off "Blazing Speed," Prince Sounds Confident & Other Notes

Well the drama around whether or not Jake Locker will get the start tomorrow afternoon is officially over. Steve Sarkasian officially announced yesterday that Locker will be starting tomorrow. Per report in the Seattle Times not only does Locker look ready to go but he has been displaying his "trademark blazing speed" during practices leading up tomorrow game:

Maybe it was watching Jake Locker sprinting out of the pocket and darting across the Dempsey Indoor field that convinced Steve Sarkisian.

Or maybe it was the way Locker bounced between drills while high-fiving teammates and chest-bumping assistants when Sarkisian knew his quarterback, who had been hampered by a right deep thigh bruise, was ready to go Saturday at UCLA.

"He ran really well," Sarkisian said. "I was really, really impressed. He was a little sore earlier today from yesterday's practice, but he looked good today. I expect him to play." [...]

"I wanted to see him run full speed," Sarkisian said. "I wanted to see him really open up and go full speed, and he was able to do that."

Locker, who wore a protective sleeve around his right calf, displayed his trademark blazing speed and agility while taking the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense. He showed no ill effects from the injury suffered Oct. 24 against Oregon.

"It's great to have your starting quarterback," Sarkisian said. "Just from an execution standpoint, being in the huddle, all the things that he brings. There are some obvious leadership skills that he brings that I know the team feeds off of."

None of this should be a surprise to anyone. The question is how will the Bruin defense come out and attack Locker tomorrow. They are not going to be able to stop him by playing the basic 4-3 look they have been showing the whole season. Locker will just sit back and pick apart the Bruin defense or blast through any open spaces. The Bruin defense must mix it up tomorrow to get Locker off rhythm early and get him uncomfortable.

Locker is an amazing athlete and one of the best QB prospects in the country. However, when he gets pressure or at least feels it in terms of having to put the entire Husky offense on his back he can make mistakes. We will have to force the issue with our defense tomorrow and not wait to react and adjust like we have been painfully doing all season.

Meanwhile, speaking of forcing the issue, the special teams might have an opportunity against the Huskies tomorrow. The Huskies have been struggling on special teams:

Steve Sarkisian didn't try to sugarcoat the problem.

In his opening comments to the media after Oregon's 43-19 win over the Huskies Oct. 24, Sarkisian said that the Ducks "destroyed us on special teams."

The Huskies had a punt blocked for a touchdown, gave up a first down on a fake field goal that led to an Oregon touchdown and allowed a two-point conversion during a critical stretch that turned the game.

Well UCLA knows a thing or two about breakdown of special teams against Oregon. But apparently Huskies have been having problems in that department throughout the season:

Indeed, UW's problems on special teams have extended deeper than just the Oregon game. A week after the landmark win against USC, the Huskies allowed the opening kickoff to be returned for a touchdown at Stanford. And the Huskies had a flurry of special-teams issues in the third quarter against Arizona that helped dig a hole that only a miracle interception could rescue.

Hopefully our guys can extend their woes for at least one more Saturday tomorrow afternoon. More after the jump.

Locker is not the only one having good practices this week. Down in Westwood, apparently Kevin Prince enjoyed his "best week of practice" (something rye and Josh discussed during last night's podcast):

If Kevin Prince plays like he practices, the UCLA quarterback and the offense could be much improved against Washington on Saturday.

That's Rick Neuheisel's thinking, anyway.

"I thought it's been his best week of practice, I really do," Neuheisel said Thursday. "I think he's raring to go. I'll be disappointed if he doesn't keep up that momentum. I think he will, I really do."

Prince led UCLA's fourth-quarter rally against Oregon State last week, completing 9 of 13 passes for 198yards and two touchdown passes in the final quarter, but the Bruins (3-5) still lost their fifth consecutive game. Neuheisel is hopeful Prince will build on that.

"There's nothing like a little shot of confidence," Neuheisel said. "You can talk it until you're blue in the face, but you have to experience it. Even though it didn't result in a victory, the effort in the fourth quarter and the ability to make plays when you have to make plays, and all that went along with that, I think is hugely beneficial.

"Hopefully, we'll start where we left off."

Prince sounds confident heading into tomorrow:

"The more time you get out there and play, the more relaxed you are and the better you will play," Prince said. "That mattered in the fourth quarter. We were moving the ball, scoring. It builds team morale and confidence."

Prince found his confidence two days before the Oregon State game, after Coach Rick Neuheisel asked him to take more risks during games. Prince got wide receiver Terrence Austin and tight end Ryan Moya and went out to the practice field to throw the ball.

"Coach Neuheisel said something needed to be done," Prince said. "We couldn't be afraid to try to make plays. So I did what I've always done, went out and did some passing. I felt like my old self again."

Prince completed 22 of 34 passes against the Beavers. Now comes the tricky part, duplicating that fourth quarter, expanding on it . . . and winning.

Here is to Kevin picking up on his strong finish and do it wire to wire tomorrow afternoon at the Rose Bowl. Chow had some interesting comments about tomorrow's matchup:

Prince completed five passes of 20 yards or more against Oregon State and is itching to get more, saying, "We need to be able to take great chances downfield."

That might not be possible against Washington, offensive coordinator Norm Chow said.

"You have to do what the defense allows you to take," Chow said. "Oregon State was pressing corners all afternoon. Washington is not going to do that. Yeah, we'd like to go downfield, but if they aren't going to let us, we can't. So you manufacture it another way."

Reading between the lines I think we will see the UCLA offense come out and try to stretch the field and get the Washington defense to loosen up a bit. I don't think Chow's comments mean we are not going to take any downfield shots. They are going to come but he sounds like he wants to get Kevin in rhythm first. Going back to last week, Chow's calls were pretty good in the first half. The offensive production would have looked different if we were actually holding on to the ball. 

We are going to be short handed a bit on offense as Pressley is going to sit out with a shoulder sprain and Carroll is also questionable. However, we still have enough ammo. on our team to put together a good performance tomorrow afternoon.

Earlier this week, CRN talked about how the entire team was "starving" for a win. That goes for everyone in this place and all over the greater Bruin Nation. We need a pick me up badly after a dreary October and the near heart attack we collectively experience inside Pauley Pavillion on Wednesday night. lol

I really believe a win tomorrow is not only going to boost the morale of our program but it has the potential to change the outlook for rest of the season.