Saturday Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
Most of the talk heading into the matchup with Washington this weekend in Husky Stadium has been about Husky quarterback Jake Locker, and with good reason.
Locker is on his way to superstardom in his home state of Washington. The Ferndale native who led Ferndale High to a state title was redshirted last year. Those games might be the last ones he does not start for a while.
In his first game against Syracuse Aug. 31, Locker completed 14 of 19 passes for 142 yards and also carried the ball 10 times for 83 yards and two touchdowns in UW's 42-12 win in the Carrier Dome, cementing his status as the next big thing.
After engineering a 24-10 upset win against No. 22 Boise State and its 14-game winning streak, Locker has become a name to know among college football fanatics. Heading into the meeting with Ohio State, he's completed 61.4 percent of his passes (27 of 44) and has a touchdown and an interception through the air. On the ground, Locker has 167 yards and three touchdowns.
Locker is certainly a unique specimen. At 6-3, 225 pounds, he doesn't fit the mold of a mobile quarterback, but he's such a gifted athlete that he can shift into top gear quickly, and he takes such long strides that even when it doesn't look like he's moving, he's pulling away from defenders. He's also shown solid agility on the run.
"I don't think we've faced anybody that is as fast as Locker," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "He can run. I heard he's the second fastest on the team. I don't know if that's true but that's what I heard. I would suspect that's probably accurate. He's fast."
Locker also has an excellent arm that is both powerful and accurate.
"I don't know anyone to be misled by the fact that he simply is a guy that can fly around the field," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "He's a guy in my mind that can throw the football well.
However, as a redshirt freshman, Locker is still bound to make some mistakes. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another against Boise State, but he completed just 13 of 25 passes, tossed an interception (and could have thrown others) and lost a fumble. He also ran for 84 yards on 16 carries.
"I think we've said all along that anytime you have a young quarterback, there is not enough of a library there for him to be able to respond and handle everything," UW head coach Tyrone Willingham said. "Each week, he'll get better. Some weeks will be better than others."
Ranking Rankin: But the Washington attack is not all about Locker. His backfield companion, Louis Rankin, is no stiff. The two depend on each other in the spread offense so many teams run in the current football climate. Rankin, a senior, has shown he has the tools to be an effective runner. He ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse and has seven 100-yard rushing days in his career.
Rankin struggled against Boise State, putting up just 45 yards on 17 carries, perhaps the result of a lack of patience. On his good days, Rankin has excellent speed and some very good moves.
"They have a tailback that's a great runner," Heacock said. "Both of them have great speed and they make the offense what it is."
Size And Speed Out Wide: A player who has been receiving his fair share of note among the Columbus media corps this week is Marcel Reese. A senior wideout, Reece measures in at 6-3, 240 pounds with the size and speed to really hurt opponents. He showed that when he hauled in a 58-yard touchdown pass against Boise State on which Tressel said, "(he) caught a post route … that two guys banged off of him."
"He's definitely a big guy and he's very fast," OSU safety Kurt Coleman said. "He's very versatile. Really we just have to contain him and hit him hard. You can't really do much with him because he's 6-4, 240. You have to hit him low and hit him hard. Hopefully they won't want to throw to him anymore."
Reece has eight catches for 152 yards on the season. Also worth watching is Anthony Russo, a smaller – 5-11, 185 – target but an effective one nonetheless. Russo has caught passes in 26 straight games and just finds seams in the opposing defenses.
The Big Uglies: Ohio State will be seeing some tall trees out in Seattle, and that's not just referring to nature. The Huskies have some size on both the offensive and defensive lines, and that's caught the eye of both Buckeye coordinators.
On the offensive side, all five staring linemen – left tackle Ben Ossai, left guard Ryan Tolar, center Juan Garcia, right guard Casey Bulyca and right tackle Chad Macklin – all check in at 300 pounds or above. All three interior linemen are at 310 or above, and Bulyca tips the scales at 340 pounds. Macklin is also 6-8, making him the tallest on the line.
"Their offensive line is huge," Heacock said. "Probably the biggest we'll face all year."
That doesn't change on the other side of the ball. Ends Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Caesar Rayford and Greyson Gunheim are just 245, 250 and 265, respectively, but all move very well for their size. In the middle, tackles Jordan Reffert and Wilson Afoa are 295 and 290.
"They're a bunch of big guys – by far the biggest guys that we've played for a little while," offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman said.
Ready And Willingham: It hasn't been an easy road for Willingham in Seattle. After seven years and a 44-36-1 record at Stanford, Willingham made a highly publicized move to Notre Dame in 2002. Despite a 10-win season his first season, he lasted just three seasons in South Bend. After a move back to the left coast on which he made his name, Willingham had just two wins his first season at U-Dub and only five last season.
While Willingham's reputation as a football coach has been debated, his reputation as a person is not in doubt. Integrity, intelligence and respect are words thrown about to describe Willingham, words that aren't all that different from the ones used to describe Ohio State coach Tressel.
"I suppose we're both not real tall," Tressel quipped when asked if he and Willingham are similar. "We don't get too boisterous, unless it's really necessary, and I think we believe in a lot of the same things, but your situation dictates so much of what you do, who you are on your team, what's the situation, all those kinds of things. But in my opinion, it would be a compliment if someone said, hey, you're like Coach Willingham."
Secondary School: If the UW defense has a way in which it can be beaten, it is by throwing vertically. Starting cornerback Vonzell McDonald Jr. is a freshman who has been thrown into the fire after the graduation of Pac-10 first team member C.J. Wallace. McDonald has had his share of ups and downs so far; he was burned for a 43-yard pass that led to a touchdown against Boise State, then came back later to grab his first career interception.
Nickelback Nate Williams is also a true freshman who sees major minutes in the back end.