It is customary for a college football head coach to talk up his weekly opponent. The gamesmanship is just part of the game.
But without a touch of insincerity, Arizona coach Mike Stoops raved and raved Monday about Washington junior Jake Locker, mentioning the quarterback in the same breath as Florida’s Tim Tebow (one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever) and John Elway (one of the greatest quarterbacks ever).
“I think people used to laugh at you when you compared him to Tebow a couple of years ago,” Stoops said at his weekly news conference.
“But watch him play. There is not a throw on the field he can’t make. Some of throws he made in the USC game to give them a chance to win were phenomenal. …
“One of his strongest attributes is his ability to scramble and keep plays alive and keep looking downfield to throw the ball. We’re talking that this kid might be the best quarterback in the country. He possesses arm strength and makes throws a lot of guys can’t make. He just flicks the ball and it just gets there very quickly.”
One of the reasons Stoops might be such a big fan is that Locker had — statistically — his career game against Arizona as a freshman in 2007 in Seattle. Locker passed for 336 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 157 yards and two scores, but the Wildcats rallied to win 48-41 and probably saved Stoops’ job that day.
Locker was out with a thumb injury when Arizona routed Washington last season.
“I don’t want to get crazy, but the guy has got an Elway-type of release and arm strength that not many people have,” Stoops said. “His mobility … John was a lot like that when he was younger.”
Locker (6-3, 226) played in only four games last season because of the thumb injury, and he entered this season below 50 percent in career accuracy. Things are different this season under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, who tutored Heisman-winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC.
With improved mechanics and working in a pro-style offense, Locker has completed 57.7 percent of his throws through five games.
“I read somewhere we he lost 10 pounds or so. You can tell,” Stoops said.
“He’s not as bulky as he was, and he’s much more fluid in what he is doing when you watch him play. … Accuracy is somewhere where he struggled, but his accuracy is much different. He’s working with a guy who has worked with a number of top quarterbacks throughout his career.”
If you don’t believe Stoops’ flattery, how about the praise from USC’s Pete Carroll? He said this about Locker — before the Huskies upset the Trojans in Seattle last month.
“That’s the best quarterback we’ve played in nine years here,” Carroll said. “He’s the most extraordinary athlete at the position we’ve seen, and I saw that as a freshman.”
That “extraordinary athlete” thing includes Texas QB Vince Young.
And what are Stoops’ final words on Locker?
“Hopefully, he will leave after this year,” he said.
Stoops said that all his injured players have a chance to be back this week, with the exception of tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Bug Wright.
Gronkowski is out for the season after back surgery; Stoops said it would be 2 to 3 months before he could resume physical activity. Wright, who had arthroscopic knee surgery, could be back for the Oct. 17 home game against Stanford (which, by the way, will start at 4:30 p.m. and be telecast on Versus, it was announced Monday).
Running back Nic Grigsby would not have contact today in practice as he tries to come back from a shoulder injury, Stoops said. Other players trying to make it back are defensive end Brooks Reed (ankle), offensive guard Vaughn Dotsy (concussion), offensive tackle Mike Diaz (concussion), running back Keola Antolin (ankle) and receiver Delashaun Dean (thigh).