On paper, this looks like the biggest mismatch in the bowl season other than Oklahoma-UConn. Nebraska came in first place in the Big 12 North and Washington finished the season in third place in the Pacific-10.
Having thumped Washington, 56-21, in September, the big and bold Nebraska Cornhuskers will try to do it again. Their opponents would absolutely love to pull an upset.
When a bully comes back around, the victim faces big decisions—stand up or be stomped on. Throngs of fans from Nebraska will be in town to see if the Huskers can thump Washington twice.
Live from San Diego, at 10 p.m. EST, Qualcomm Stadium’s lights will shine on Dec. 30 in the Holiday Bowl.
A senior quarterback and leader on offense, Jake Locker’s Huskies career will end after that night. He faced the ferocious Huskers defense earlier this year. On Sept. 18, they met, and the score doesn’t truly indicate the whipping Nebraska gave Washington.
Since then, the Huskies believe they are improved and they’re out for revenge. Whether they say it publicly or not, they have a bad taste in their mouths from the Cornhuskers' dirt. It was flying in their faces during the clouds of dust the Nebraska offense racked up on the way to the end zone.
In their first meeting this season, Nebraska was ranked No. 8 in the nation. Big Red went to Seattle and opened up a can of I-backs on the Washington Huskies.
After the game, they got out of town and flew back to Lincoln with a 3-0 record. Washington lost in a blowout and was severely bogging down at 1-2. They were in a daze in the wake of the Huskers' running game.
Taylor Martinez ran for three touchdowns and 137 yards and added 150 yards passing. He broke off an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half. When he did it, off a fake dive play, the score was 28-14. He made it 35-14 and the rout was on.
Roy Helu II also dashed down the road to the end zone party. He racked up 110 yards and two touchdowns on yet another dazzling I-back sprint for a score. On a run of 65 yards and one for eight, he had a highlight-reel game. Rex Burkhead added 104 yards and a 19-yard dash for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Helu averaged 11 yards per carry, Burkhead eight and Martinez seven. It was the first time Washington has allowed three 100-yard rushers in history.
While the Huskers backs were distressing the Huskies defenders, Locker was disrespecting himself.
“I didn’t really hook up with anybody,” he said. "I just think they did a really good job within their defense and I tried to force a few balls when I could have dropped it down to other guys. A lot of factors didn’t allow us to be really consistent in the passing game today.”
He did throw a 45-yard strike for a touchdown to Jermaine Kearse, and he rushed for 59 yards. He finished the game with 71 yards passing and two interceptions—one for a pick-six.
According to Washington’s head coach, the loss was on the Huskies. “I know we’re a better football team than what we put on the field today in all three phases,” Steve Sarkisian said.
He was clearly frustrated with his team's play, saying: “I know we can tackle better than that. I know we can throw the football better than that, and I know we can protect the quarterback.”
Nebraska’s coach thought it was a good step for his team. “There’s still a lot more out there for us. There’s still a lot for us to clean up,” Bo Pelini said. “We have a long way to go, but this was a good step along the way.”
The Huskers will be stepping to the Big Ten. Whether or not it’s a good step to leave the Big 12 conference remains to be seen. Nebraska will have to heal from losing the Big 12 championship game to Oklahoma. The Cornhuskers ended the Big 12 season with a dud, instead of the bang they’d hoped for.
Starting defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler was suspended for alleged drunken driving and will reportedly miss this game. He started all 13 games and posted 3.5 sacks.
The first sacking of Washington by Nebraska wasn’t as close as the score indicates. For both coaches, though, the difference is four days to prepare for a team during the regular season versus bowl season. It’s a positive step for Washington to make a bowl game. Bo Pelini could have a challenge motivating his team for this one.
Taylor Martinez could have issues finding his rhythm during the layoff. He could also benefit from the time off if his ankle gets closer to 100 percent.
In debating my upset specials, I wondered if this game should be one of them. I picked Iowa State to upset Nebraska and came within a missed game-winning field goal of being right.
It’s not like I’m out for revenge. The question is: will the Huskies quench their thirst for revenge?
Prediction: Nebraska has the chance to produce three 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history. I doubt if the Huskies will stand in their way if the Huskers want to do it.
NU has one of the better functioning run offenses in the FBS, while Washington has one of the worst run defenses. This could be due to the Huskies defense being left on the field in the face of woeful offense.
They have some of the best tacklers in America, but it won’t help. Nebraska will roll to a relatively easy 47-24 victory.