Early in the second quarter, on 4th and 1 on the USC 31-yard line, Locker ran a designed run left in the same fashion that a QB would in a traditional 3-option play, and ran for 16 yards, only it wasn't an option play.
After Locker quickly and successfully negotiated through a traffic of blockers led by Chris Polk and a gaggle of USC defenders, he had only one man to beat on the way to the end zone: Shareece Wright, who was keyed in one Locker like a missile silo.
Wright put a shoulder into Locker after he gained 16 yards, knocking him out of bounds and ending the threat of a Locker home run. I assume Wright didn't like that, because it seemed to me thereafter that he vowed not to let Locker beat them with his legs, especially on key downs, like the 4th down play that Locker had just successfully converted.
Wright's play thereafter supports this theory.
Most everyone will remember later in the quarter, the 54-yard Jake Locker run in the second quarter where Shareece Wright grabs him by the horse-collar to slow Locker down and punch the ball out from underneath Locker's arm. Most would have thought that Locker scoring on that play was close to a done deal. However, Wright prevented this.
It certainly seemed like Wright was determined not to allow Locker to score.
Many wanted a penalty on the play on Wright for grabbing the horsecollar, but the officials had it right: There was no penalty on the play. For a horse-collar penalty to be assessed, it has to be committed in the open field and a tackle must be made/completed by the horse-collar grab. (If a defender lets go before the tackle is made, he will not be penalized). In this case, the play happened in the open field, but there was no tackle that was made on the play, and therefore, no penalty. Instead, there was a forced fumble, which was ruled to have entered the endzone and out of bounds, the result being a touchback for USC.
Overall, a very excellent, excellent play by Wright.
Then perhaps a good number will remember Wright aggressively shoving Locker out of bounds later on in the same quarter on a quarterback draw where Locker took off to the left and subsequently talking trash to Locker while he was getting up and then getting right back in Locker's face to get a few words in while Locker was returning to the huddle.
A personal rivalry between Locker and Wright appeared to be brewing, though it appears that was the case more so for Wright, because Locker, as is his tendency, just let it fall off his back like a drop of rain off a duck's feathers. Locker didn't respond; he didn't say anything or do anything. He just went right back to playing. I am under the impression it would take a lot more than good forced fumble and a bit of trash talk to make Locker take things personally on the field.
However, I couldn't help but wonder that Locker had at least a hint of personal satisfaction in exacting a small bit of revenge on Wright at the end of the third quarter. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Nevertheless, he made Wright pay.
Heading into the play, the Huskies had gotten the ball with 4:36 left in the 3rd quarter on their own 32-yard line, and had drove all the way to USC's 31-yard line thanks to a couple of key plays they used to convert two long 3rd down plays, one of them being the 20-yard yard pass to Jermaine Kearse on 3rd and 14 on the previous play.
1st and 10, ball on the USC 31-yard line.
The Huskies open this play with a creative use of personnel. The formation isn't anything new under the sun; it is a 3-WR shotgun formation. The TE (Marlion Barnett) is lined up strongside left. Polk is lined up offset to Locker's right. One WR is wide left (which is Jesse Callier). The other WR's are Devin Aguilar, who is in the slot on the right, and Cody Bruns is wide right.
Far as I can recall, the Huskies have never played a single down with this personnel. I don't think anyone could have known what to expect with two halfbacks, one of them the back up HB lined up as a WR, and a back up WR. One could always go with an educated guess, and perhaps get it right, but this use of personnel forces the defensive coordinator to quickly determine whether the second HB is a decoy or a passing option.
USC goes with 4-3 man coverage with a 5-yard cushion off of the WR's.
Locker motions the WR on the left (Jesse Callier) to the right. Wright, who was on Callier, doesn't follow. Instead, he lines up next to the right DE, and the LB's shift defensive left slightly.
Ball is snapped.
The O-line pulls right. Kelemete doesn't take the DE on his side, but this is by design. He successfully helps the rest of the O-line push the pile right and create a classic pocket. This puts Barnett on the DE, who he immediately loses.
Polk recognizes this and picks him up quite successfully, which is impressive, given the size disadvantage that he had. There is now a huge hole opening up left for Locker.
Polk's block had taken place just after Locker completed his 3-step drop. Locker scans the defense quickly, and takes off "northward" and to the left, switching the ball from his right hand to his left, and holding it securely this time. Wright, who disengaged from the LOS into coverage 5 yards off and into the flat, breaks to his left towards Locker with the perfect angle. He is the only one in Locker's vicinity.
Locker sees Wright converging on him, and seeking to lose Wright, Locker stutter steps and brakes, tilts his head right, which Wright bit on, and Locker dashes left, leaving Wright vainly trying to arm-tackle Locker, before going "northward" diagonally toward the left sideline for 20 yards.
Locker's demeanor had no change, except that he had some bounce to his step in returning to the huddle. It is open to interpretation as to whether he enjoyed doing that to Wright, but he made Wright pay on that play.