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Living on a prayer
Casey Anderson, 30 August 2007

As the season ramps up, the purple and gold pulpit is singing the praises of Jake "The Savior" Locker to a congregation of Husky faithful eager for a glimpse of the promised lands of Pasadena. And while I'm as much a Husky zealot as the next Dawgfan, I get the feeling we Husky fans are all looking in the wrong place for our salvation. For those of us with high hopes in the year 15 A.D.J. (After Don James), it seems to me we ought to direct our non-denominational prayers (we're equal opportunity here, so long as you're not a Eugenite or Pullmanian) a few feet forward and several feet to the left of the esteemed Mr. Locker.

Spend a few seconds Googling the words "Tyrone" and "Willingham", and your search results will most likely net you several items containing the phrase "our young men", along with a bunch of outdated Notre Dame news. Dig just slightly deeper, though, and you'll run across several instances where T-Dub preaches the importance of the offensive line in his football philosophy. Read one article, or listen to one interview, and you're likely to hear the coach admit that the most critical piece of a successful football team is indeed its o-line.

This isn't earth-shattering stuff here: the offensive line blocks better, running backs have more holes to run through, time of possession increases, quarterbacks have more time to make decisions, interceptions are fewer, the defense stays fresh…it's Guinness brilliant. As o-lines go, the most important lineman, the man who protects the quarterback's blind side, is the left tackle. So, applying a little Willinghamian logic, it's the left tackle, the man who protects the so-called savior, rather than the savior himself, who is the most important Husky

The question, then, is: who exactly is going to be the Husky Tackle Templar?

Unfortunately the answer is still unclear, with the season opener looming large this Friday. Returning sophomore Ben Ossai apparently didn't live up to his end of the conditioning bargain over the summer, and he has been battling with redshirt freshman Cody Habben to retain the position and work his way back into the favor of the coaching staff. At least, this seems to be the case. Willingham's penchant for tightly closed practices and tightly closed lips leaves us only interpretation and speculation, but it's a fair bet that we're not talking about a Brunell/Hobert battle of All-Americans here, especially considering the inexperience of both players in question.

And the uncertainty has this Dawgfan's hackles up. The Neu/Gilby era's focus on skill position players has left the o-line cupboard bare, else there'd be a senior heading the depth chart at this crucial position. Unless the Huskies can manage to sneak Seahawk HOFer-to-be Walter Jones in from across town, Jake Locker's heavenly potential could be grounded and sent to the sidelines by an opposing defensive end before it ever has a chance to take flight.

Thankfully, a steady dose of the Rich Rodriguez/West Virginia-style running attack should stem a bit of the onrushing tide. In theory, the shotgun spread formation should give Locker a bit more time to sort out the defense and make decisions (RUN!). It should also provide a better chance to spot a rushing defender coming from the left side, should Tyrone's chosen tackle-templar not be up to the task. It's feasible to think that UW could be successful operating as a poor man's WVU (never thought I'd say that!) with Jake Locker and Louis Rankin playing the part of Pat White/Steve Slaton doppelgangers. Once again, though, Locker and Rankin are only going to go as far as the offensive line can push them - unlike the Mountaineers, the Huskies don't have an all-conference starter anchoring their line, nor do they have the luxury of a powder-puff Big East schedule.

And there's the rub. It's conceivable that Jake Locker lives up to some of the hype, the offensive line sorts out its issues and plays well, and Rankin finally brings some consistency to his sometimes-spectacular game, yet the Huskies may still end up no more victorious than last season. CBS's Dennis Dodd called UW's schedule the toughest in the nation. The SEC may lay claim to the title of best conference, but there's not a February-in-Seattle-slushball's chance in Hades that the LSUs and Floridas of the world would trade robes with Washington this year. I guess it's a good thing we have "The Savior" on our side in the face of such an infernal schedule.

I just pray that the big boys up front can keep Jake Locker from a season of injury-plagued, pine-riding purgatory.

Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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