SEATTLE -- It begins with the ends.
Top-ranked USC’s plan to control Washington quarterback Jake Locker today at Husky Stadium involves every member of the defense, but ends Lawrence Jackson and Kyle Moore bear perhaps the greatest responsibility in terms of containment.
The powerful and fleet-footed Locker, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound redshirt freshman, is the Huskies’ leading rusher. His scrambles and runs out of designed plays have drawn rave reviews from opposing coaches and players who project Locker as a future star in the mold of Vince Young.
“The whole offense revolves around the [quarterback] position,” Moore said. “You could pretty much say it’s like Vince.”
Not so fast, cautions Jackson, while acknowledging Locker’s speed and talent.
“He’s too young to have the ‘it’ factor,” Jackson said. “I mean, he’s good but he’s not in the same class as Vince Young. No offense to him, but no offense to Vince Young either.”
Locker is not expected to run for 200 yards and pass for 260 as Young did against the Trojans in the 2006 Bowl Championship Series title game. But Jackson and Moore will be challenged to sack Locker or pressure him out of the pocket without allowing him to escape into unmanned running lanes.
“We have to contain him and make sure he doesn’t get outside,” Moore said. “And if he does get outside, we have to make sure we get there as fast as we can so he doesn’t get any farther.”
Through three games, Jackson and Moore appear well-suited for the task.
After struggling at times last season, the 6-5, 270-pound Jackson has regained his 2005 form.
Two years ago, the Inglewood High alumnus recorded 10 sacks. Last season, with a possible departure to the NFL looming, his sack total fell to four.
Jackson, a four-year starter, has three sacks in three games this season.
“I don’t want to jinx myself in any way but it definitely feels good to come out of the gates and get 75% of the sacks I got last year in the first third of the season,” Jackson said. “I just want to keep going.”
So does the 6-6, 275-pound Moore, who is enjoying a breakout season after an eventful training camp.
“Not playing against the same people every day brings a different excitement,” Moore said, smiling broadly.
The junior from Georgia was the forgotten man last season when the Trojans adopted a hybrid 3-4 scheme to get more linebackers onto the field. USC reverted to the 4-3 favored by Coach Pete Carroll during the spring and Moore reported for training camp determined to win a starting job.
His desire resulted in at least two run-ins on the field.
Teammates had to separate Moore and freshman defensive end Everson Griffen after Moore chastised Griffen for complaining about back soreness during drills. A week later, Moore got into it with guard Chilo Rachal. The second incident resulted in a summons to Carroll’s office and a warning to tone down his behavior.
“The incidents were unnecessary, but I came in with the mind-set that I have to show these coaches I’m ready to play,” Moore said this week. “I think I’m doing that.”
Moore has figured prominently in each of the four turnovers caused by the Trojans.
He recorded a sack and forced and recovered a fumble on the same play in the opener against Idaho. Against Nebraska, he intercepted a pass and tipped another that was intercepted by cornerback Terrell Thomas. Moore intercepted another pass last week against Washington State.
Locker presents a challenge different from any the Trojans have faced this season, but he is similar in style to former Huskies quarterback Isaiah Stanback, who also posed a threat as a runner.
Last season, Stanback played virtually error free and had Washington positioned for a possible upset when he drove the Huskies inside the Trojans’ 20-yard line with two seconds left. But time expired before the Huskies snapped the ball, allowing USC to escape with a 26-20 victory.
Washington enters today’s game coming off consecutive losses against Ohio State and UCLA. The Huskies began the season with victories over Syracuse and Boise State.
Washington Coach Tyrone Willingham said it would take more than a good performance by Locker to stay with the Trojans.
“We need to get help, not only from our running backs but also from our wide receivers along with Jake,” Willingham said. “They really need to step up.”
For USC, so must Jackson and Moore.