“We couldn’t keep him (Tuel) in the pocket and sack him. He’s a Jake Locker-type. They wear the same number. They look the same to me.” – Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea
PULLMAN – Stephen Paea may not be Mel Kiper, Jr., but the Oregon State star isn’t Mr. Magoo either.
When he said after the Beavers 31-14 loss to Washington State that Cougar quarterback Jeff Tuel reminded him of Washington’s standout Jake Locker, he was speaking from the perspective of player worn-out trying to chase down a ghost.
Time after time in WSU’s last game, Tuel, a sophomore from Clovis, Calif., escaped the pocket to gash Oregon State for long runs.
That’s something Locker, who will play the last regular-season game of his highly ballyhooed UW career Saturday at Martin Stadium, has done numerous times over the past four years.
So how do Locker and Tuel, who will face off for the first and only time in the Apple Cup this week, compare? And what type of contrast is there?
The starkest contrast, of course, is Locker is a senior and a four-year starter – well, three-and-a-quarter, as he was injured four games into his sophomore season – for the Huskies.
But at the same point in their careers, Tuel and Locker have somewhat similar numbers, with the Cougar holding a passing edge and the Husky a big rushing gap.
In 17 games in Pullman, Tuel has passed for 3,271 yards, completing 58.6 percent of his attempts. He’s thrown 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Thanks to having absorbed more than 60 sacks, he’s gained just 151 yards on the ground, 113 of those in the last two games.
“I think he’s got a very unique style to him,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said of Tuel, who missed last year’s 30-0 UW Apple Cup win with an injury. “I wouldn’t classify him as a runner, but he’s athletic enough to run, he’s fearless enough to run. But he’s much more of a passer.”
After his sophomore season, shortened to four games with the thumb injury, Locker had thrown for 2,574 yards in 16 games, completing just 48.7 percent of his throws. He had 15 touchdowns and interceptions. But he also had gained 1,166 yards rushing, averaging 5.1 yards.
It’s the ability to change games with his legs that has set Locker apart from many of his peers. That’s changed a bit since Sarkisian took over the program prior to last season.
Locker ran less frequently, gained fewer yards (388) and stayed healthy. All but one of those things stayed true this season and that one – staying healthy – has affected his passing.
After raising his completion rate to 58.4 last season, Locker’s accuracy has declined a bit – 56.1 – this year, in part due to a rib injury.
He put those problems on the backburner late last week, when he led the Huskies on a game-winning drive as time expired against California, keeping Washington’s bowl hopes alive.
“He’s not healthy by any means,” Sarkisian said, “but when our back was against the wall and needed to make plays, we leaned on No. 10 and he showed some real guts and real heart that last drive. “
“It’s not like we’re going to be able to go into this game and hold (Locker) to no runs,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “The key thing is, hopefully there are not on critical third-down plays and hopefully they are not for big plays and touchdowns.”
Which is another thing the two have in common.
“He’s a real playmaker,” Sarkisian said of Tuel.
“The one thing I think really stands out with him,” Locker said of his counterpart, “he’s throwing the deep ball really well, he’s been able to create some explosive plays with some of their receivers down the field. I’m very impressed with how he’s been able to do that.”
Tuel watched Locker’s first two seasons from the distance of high school. He learned a lot.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, just kind of a freak in that sense,” Tuel said, “how fast he is, how strong and big. I think every quarterback wants to have his attributes.
“I never really thought I could play like Jake Locker,” Tuel added. “I know I have the ability to make plays with my feet and with my arm, so I guess there are some similarities in that sense.”
And in one other way.
Ask anyone who knows Locker, who grew up in Ferndale, Wash., and they’ll mention his passion for the game and his school. He passed up the chance to be the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick to try to lead UW to a bowl, a goal almost within his reach.
Wulff calls him an exceptional leader, someone who epitomizes what’s good in the college game. He praises his character and admires his courage.
In that, Sarkisian returns the compliment to Tuel.
“(He) is a guy that plays the game fearless,” Sarkisian said. “He’s willing to throw the ball in there and he’s willing to run, really put his body out there. He plays the game fearless, he plays with a real passion.”