It is rare that two college football teams end up playing three times within the course of one calendar year and 13 college football games. Although it is also rare that two teams in the same conference play a non-conference game before playing a conference game later in the year as Colorado and Cal did last week. Nevertheless, the Washington Huskies travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on the #11 Nebraska Cornhuskers in a game of who is angrier/better.
The Huskies will be attempting to build upon a 19-7 Holiday Bowl win in which many made excuses for the Huskers including QB Taylor Martinez was hurt and the team didn’t care about playing the game. Meanwhile, Nebraska attempts to re-create the 56-21 drubbing off the Dawgs at Montlake a year ago in which Husky fans tried to come up with excuses but couldn’t because it was THAT ugly. So which game will be a better representation of this year’s match up?
Key Positional Battles
LBs John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono vs. QB Taylor Martinez
While middle linebacker Cort Dennison is coming off a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award to go with seasons of experience, both Timu and Fuimaono will face their first real test this week. Even though the Dawgs played two games and won both, Eastern Washington and Hawaii threw the ball as much as any two teams you will see. Thus the two young linebackers played a much different (or even reduced) role in those games. That won’t be the case Saturday as they are forced to keep Martinez from hitting the outside and breaking big runs.
Huskies secondary vs. Cornhuskers receivers
This wouldn’t seem to be a huge match up as the Huskers have only completed 22 passes this year and feature a heavy running attack. Yet when Nebraska passes, it is for big yards. They have five different receivers with the following for longest catches: 27 yards, 31 yards, 42 yards, 43 yards and 53 yards. The Huskies DBs like Gregory Ducre and safety Justin Glenn cannot get exposed when the Huskers do decide to put the ball in the air.
Line of Scrimmage
When the Huskers posted three 100 yard rushers in gaining 383 yards on the ground last September, it was pretty clear they controlled the line of scrimmage. With only 91 yards in the Holiday Bowl rematch, it is clear that the Dawgs had fixed some things. Who wins this battle on Saturday? DT Alameda Ta’amu will need to put up a familiar performance to the bowl game last December for the Dawgs to have a chance here. On the offensive side of the ball, Chris Polk will need to continue his streak of 100 yard games, thus keeping the ball out of Nebraska offense’s hands as well.
Husky WRs vs. Nebraska DBs
Even in a victory at the end of last year, Jake Locker put up some really poor numbers passing the ball. His 5-16 performance for only 56 yards could only be rivaled by his previous Nebraska game in which he was 4-20 with 2 INT and only 71 yards in the air. This combined 9-36 made many believe Locker wasn’t worth getting drafted #8 overall. Luckily for the Dawgs, many Husker DBs moved on to another level while Alfonzo Dennard appears to be unavailable due to injury. Keith Price will need recievers Devin Aguilar, James Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, Keith Smith and Kasen Williams to beat their defenders consistently to allow for a better rhythm than Locker ever came close to in two match ups last year. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be a key in this area as well in easing the pressure on the outside receivers.
Keys for UW
1. No Big Plays
Three of the Nebraska touchdowns in the second half of the drubbing last year were over 45 yards and this doesn’t include an interception return for a touchdown. In Nebraska’s first touchdown drive last week, QB Taylor Martinez ran 57 yards to reach the Fresno State 20 yard line. On the next TD drive, Martinez had a 38 yard run. The next TD drive? Yep, big play. 46 yard pass completion setting up another score. And again, a 53 yard pass sets up the fourth Nebraska touchdown. Next TD? 100 yard kick return. Next? 46 yard TD run by Martinez. I don’t think you need any more proof.
2. Keep Possession
The more the Huskies can keep the ball, the less that dangerous Nebraska offense can wear down the Dawgs linebackers and defensive line. Often times, a ball controlling rushing attack can get off their game when the other team does the exact same thing. In the loss to Nebraska, Chris Polk had 17 carries for 57 yards. For a comparison, he put up 177 yards on 24 carries in the win. Feeding Chris Polk the ball and playing to Keith Price’s strengths in the possession passing game should help. If the Dawgs can put together long, 10+ play drives, it will help them have a shot at winning this sucker as it can keep the crowd a little quieter as well.
3. Make Big Plays
In the same sense that the Dawgs want the Huskers to stay contained, Washington needs to make some impact plays in order to pull off the upset. Rarely does a team go into a ranked team’s house and win by just methodically beating them down. The Dawgs will need plays like blocked kicks, interceptions in Nebraska territory or 30+ yard gains on offense to gain a victory.
Player to Watch
QB Taylor Martinez and QB Keith Price
This would be more aptly named “position to watch” for this week’s game. I couldn’t pick one of them as they both will be pivotal to the victor in this ball game. For the Dawgs, Keith Price will need to continue his play from the first two weeks and make some big plays with his arm. He looked unfazed, despite losing big, when he made his debut at Oregon last year. He will need similar confidence this week, but with more playmaking. At the same time, Martinez is the key to everything Nebraska does. The Huskies dominated him (even if he was gimpy) in their Holiday Bowl win last year. In the Nebraska win at Montlake, Martinez ran for 137 yards and 3 scores (plus 150 passing and a TD). That kind of performance again will equal a big loss for the Dawgs.