Locke's big game a model effort

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 19, 2010 

Back in Michael Jordan's hey day, Gatorade used to challenge the world to be like Mike.

Over the summer, Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips challenged UK star running back Derrick Locke to be like Mark.

As in Ingram, the Alabama star running back and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Phillips wanted Locke to watch how Ingram stays near his blockers — "he hugs them," Phillips said — before making cuts or moves. The Kentucky coach felt Locke had a tendency to change directions when too far from his blockers. The result was defenders had both more time and better angles to get off of blocks and tackle Locke.

"I asked him to watch the Ingram kid, the kid at Alabama," Phillips said. "He does a really good job of cutting right off the heels of his blockers."

Against lightly regarded Akron Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium, Phillips found himself wondering whether Locke had followed his advice.

"He had a run where he broke out on the right side, near the goal line, and it was just him and a safety or a corner," Phillips said. "He made a move about 10 yards from the defender and got tackled. I went to him and told him, 'Nobody is going to make anybody miss making a move 10 yards from him."

What happened next?

"He probably had the best run I've ever seen him run," Phillips said. "And that was the play before his long touchdown, which was also a great run."

Looking every bit like an elite-level college running back, Locke rocked the overmatched Zips for a career high 166 yards and two touchdowns as Kentucky hung a 47-10 pasting on the Zips.

With the performance, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound speedster that the UK track and field program found in Hugo, Okla., continued his unlikely advance up the Kentucky football record books.

Locke became only the seventh UK back ever to exceed 2,000 yards rushing for a career. With 2,103 yards as a Wildcat, Locke is now 2 yards behind Artose Pinner for sixth on the all-time Kentucky rushing list.

Not bad for a guy recruited to Lexington to be a long jumper.

Which is not to say the always-opinionated Locke was taking a victory lap over his milestone.

Asked what 2,000 yards meant to him, Locke said "nothing. Absolutely nothing. Two thousand yards should have been here a long time ago. I went though some areas with injuries. I'm not concerned about 2,000 yards."

Locke missed the second half of his sophomore year after tearing an ACL.

The Locke run that got Phillips excited was a 9-yard run around right end in the third quarter.

"He looked like he's about to go out of bounds, and he steps on the guys' toes, puts his foot on the ground and gets vertical," the UK coach said. "That's a great run, and you probably didn't notice. To me, that was a great run."

The Locke run that got the rest of a Commonwealth crowd of 64,014 pumped came two possessions later. On a 2nd-and-1 from the UK 44, Locke outran the Zips defense to the right corner. He broke an arm tackle in the secondary, then cut hard back toward the center of the field at the Akron 10 and roared into the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown.

"A Mark Higgs-type run," UK radio color analyst Jeff Piecoro said over the air in reference to the dynamic 1980s-era Wildcats running back.

Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline said "there are few guys who can make that kind of run. But that's what Derrick does. He sees creases, hits them hard and doesn't look back."

UK receiver Randall Cobb said "it was a great run by DLocke. His ability to be able to cut back and make plays happen is special."

With the rugged defenses of the Southeastern Conference looming, Locke is off to the start he needed to achieve the goal of gaining over 1,000 yards for the season. He has 372 through three games.

Things will be tougher against the big boys of the SEC, but Phillips says he thinks Locke has made significant improvement from last season in terms of learning how to "hug the blockers" before making cuts.

From watching all that Mark Ingram tape?

Said Locke: "I don't watch other backs."

If he keeps it up in the SEC, other backs will want to be like Derrick.

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