In what is becoming a frequent matchup, the Huskies will travel to Lincoln, NE to face the tenth ranked Cornhuskers this coming Saturday at 12:30 PT (ABC). Both teams boast 2-0 records and look to break the deadlock of the mini-series over the past year that is at one game apiece. Here’s what you should expect to see:
The Dawgs come into Lincoln as a 17.5 point underdog, but that’s Vegas talking, not the guys who will be stepping onto the field. They are coming off a 40-32 win over Hawaii in what was an offensive shootout. Keith Price has looked good so far this season, throwing for 417 yards, 70% completion rating, and seven touchdowns to only one interception. He has displayed accuracy with the football that was never achieved by Jake Locker over his fours years at UW. Keith is a natural game manager that also has the ability to escape the pressure and throw on the run. Although we have not seen much yet, he can scramble for the first down yards if need be. Chris Polk continues to produce in the running game, leading the Pac-12 in rushing yards with 232 after two weeks. Although in both games he has exceeded 100 yards, it has come quietly. He has yet to “take over” a game, a trait that he surely possesses. Nebraska knows what it’s like to feel the power running of Polk. Last year in the Holiday Bowl, Chris posted 177 yards and a touchdown on a defense that was regarded one of the best in the country. It will be no easy task, though. Nebraska has a stout defensive line led by Jared Crick. The preseason All-American DT will be paired together with Baker Steinkuhler, who is talented in his own right. Both will attempt to plug the middle and put pressure on Keith Price. At the end positions are Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah. If it wasn’t hard enough, senior Lavonte David will be at the weak side linebacker position where he compiled a school record 152 tackles and All-Big 12 honors a year ago. It will be quite the daunting task, but if Polk can channel his Holiday Bowl performance and run effectively against the Husker’s defense, the Dawgs will have a much better chance than most are giving them. In the receiving department, Jermaine Kearse looks to have a nice afternoon against Nebraska’s secondary that graduated 3 of 4 starters last season and talented CB Alfonzo Dennard will most likely be out due to injury. Devin Aguilar will also get many looks after his monstrous performance last week with 5 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown. The Huskies will again try to integrate the tight ends into the passing gam. This will draw attention away from the wide receivers, yielding more opportunities for 1-on-1 matchups outside.
The Husky defense has heard one word all week in practice and that word is “contain.” Contain, contain, contain. Nebraska has one of the fastest quarterbacks in the entire country in sophomore Taylor Martinez. So far this season he has gained a team leading 301 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns on 34 carries. That’s enough to be third most in the nation, only 21 yards back of first. IF (and that’s a big if) the Huskies can hold the edge and force him to stay in the pocket, you could see an impressive showing out of Nick Holt’s bunch. Martinez is not that great of a passer so look to see Husky DT Alameda Ta’amu and company try and wreak havoc in the backfield and constrain the Nebraska QB into some errant throws. Force Martinez to pass and you’ll end up with a wandering ball right in your lap as a Husky defensive back. The Cornhuskers also have a talented and hard-nosed running back in the name of Rex Burkhead. He has rushed for 130 yards on 26 carries so far this year, which is a 5.0 yard-per-carry average. It also helps that he runs behind a massive offensive line. 3 of the 5 starters are 6’6” or taller. They lost two starters from a year ago but they regained one who was out with an injury last season. They have the ability to push people around up front. Luckily, one of the Huskies strong points is run defense. In the passing game for Nebraska nothing really pops out at you because they don’t throw it too often. Brandon Kinnie is a talented senior receiver but he has only caught 2 passes for 7 yards so far this season so it will be interesting to see how the Huskers integrate that into their offensive scheme.
I believe the Huskies have a much better chance at winning this game than most people think. I may be a biased opinion but let me explain some reasons why I think they have a shot. The Huskies have Chris Polk. The tailback has yet to “go off” this season but we know he has it in him. I know everyone is saying that Nebraska didn’t care in the Holiday Bowl, but take a moment to think about it. Yes, they may have underestimated us, but I have trouble thinking that they weren’t into playing the game. We’re talking about many players’ last game to put on the Red and White, nonetheless with a trophy on the line. Even when the Cornhuskers realized at half time that the Dawgs were a different team than the one they had met 3 months earlier, they still were unable to change their defensive ways and stop the Huskies running attack. In the second half Chris Polk ran for 92 yards and a touchdown, more yards than he ran for in the first two quarters. They were unable to stop him even with the adjustments they made at half. Jake Locker only completed 5 passes for 56 yards, yet the Huskies managed to score 19 points. As for the Husker offense, I will give them some leeway because Taylor Martinez had a case of Turf toe, thanks to Ta’amu, and they didn’t have him for the entire 4th quarter. But if you look at the box score you will see under rushing for Taylor Martinez: 14 carries, 23 yards, 1.6 avg, 0 TD. One thing it doesn’t mention is 20 of those yards came on one carry. That means if you take that out of the equation, his line would be: 13 carries, 3 yards, 0.2 avg, 0 TD. Doesn’t look a lot like a stat sheet for a quarterback who racked up 737 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground over only the first 5 games of the season. If you watched that game you remember Alameda Ta’amu and Hau’oli Jamora in the offensive backfield the entire night. Why can’t that happen again? The success of the Huskies hinges on three things: 1) How effective Chris Polk can be running against a talented D-Line for Nebraska 2) The ability of the Washington D-Line to exert pressure on Taylor Martinez and contain him like they did last December, and 3) Whether or not Keith Price and his talented group of WR’s can find holes in a revamped Husker secondary that will most likely be missing star corner Alfonzo Dennard. We all know that games are won and lost by the turnover battle and defense. I truly believe the Huskies can control these two aspects of the contest and beat the Cornhuskers. Call me crazy, and I might be, but the more and more I think about it, the more and more I can see the Dawgs stunning the Huskers in Lincoln.
My Prediction: 23-20 Huskies
Note: I will be in Lincoln for the game this weekend so look for an in-depth game recap early next week