What the public may want – a breakout, big-play, go-bonkers Jake Locker effort to boost his slowing Heisman Trophy pulse – might not be the way to go for underdog Washington in facing eighth-ranked Nebraska today at Husky Stadium.
Not to diminish what the senior from Ferndale could bring to what is expected to be a raucous home stadium – split up by spirited cheering sections from both universities – but history in this series should be studied very carefully.
To beat Nebraska, stopping the run is of the highest priority.
To ensure getting blown out by the Cornhuskers, let them pile up the rushing yards in big gobs.
“When I was younger, they were really good running football team offensively, kind of smash-mouth football,” Locker said. “I think that they have kind of gone back to that this year.”
Consider what has transpired in the past two decades in the series:
• 1991: A 10-minute explosion in the second half produced a 36-21 UW victory on its way to a share of the national championship. Nebraska left its own field with just 135 rushing yards.
• 1992: In the rematch a year later in Husky Stadium, the UW won again – 29-14 – off big plays and again by holding the Cornhuskers on the ground (176 yards).
• 1997: All you had to remember about Nebraska’s 27-14 win in Seattle is the 355 combined rushing yards of running backs Joel Makovicka and Ahman Green and quarterback Scott Frost.
• 1998: This time, it was another mobile quarterback, Bobby Newcombe – as well as running back DeAngelo Evans – who spearheaded a 55-7 mauling in Lincoln, Neb. The duo had 225 of Nebraska’s 434 rushing yards.
And in 2010, look at the Nebraska cast on offense – Taylor Martinez, a dual-threat quarterback and redshirt freshman; running back Roy Helu Jr., a returning 1,000-yard rusher who was fourth in the Big 12; and running back Rex Burkhead, a multi-use weapon out of the backfield.
The lowest per-carry yardage of the three backfield mates this season is Burkhead’s 9.6. Martinez leads at 13.5, including back-to-back 100-yard rushing games to start his career (127 against Western Kentucky and 157 against Idaho).
“The blocking has been good, the schemes have been good,” Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said. “Now we’ll have a bigger test probably against a better defense. I do like our running backs – our explosiveness in the running game.”
In many ways, this mid-September game is much like the third game of last season – ranked opponent (Southern California) at home, facing a feared rushing attack (Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson) and needing a near-perfect defensive effort to give the UW a chance.
That day, the Huskies were magnificent in what turned out to be a grinding, 16-13 victory over USC. They held USC to 250 rushing yards – just enough – to get a win.
A similar effort, or better, will be required today against Nebraska.
“They have a lot of good skill and they spread you out and they run some really good things, so we are going to be stretched thin and out in the middle of the field. We have to make some one-on-one tackles,” UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “There’s no magic formula. You’ve got to play really, really good defense against these guys.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org
NO. 8 NEBRASKA (2-0) AT WASHINGTON (1-1)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. PDT, Husky Stadium, Seattle.
TV: Fox Sports Northwest/ESPN3.com. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Tied 3-3-1. The Cornhuskers have won the past two games, including a 55-7 win in Lincoln, Neb. in 1998. In their last trip to Seattle in 1997, they also won – 27-14. The UW’s last victory was in 1992, a 29-14 triumph at Husky Stadium.
What to watch: What is UW coach Steve Sarkisian now looking for in his offensive line? Fast-moving big bodies, regardless of experience. True freshman Erik Kohler (6-5, 306) fits that, and not surprisingly, he has been paired next to standout Senio Kelemete at left guard. ... How good is the Cornhuskers’ defense? Maybe not as stout up front, but their back seven is as good, if not better than last season. Needless to say, UW’s Jake Locker won’t be asked to drop back and sling it all over the field. It will take equal distribution between Locker’s arm and Chris Polk’s running. ... What kind of game should this be? If the UW has its say, a low-scoring grinder – by stopping the run, controlling field position and limiting special-teams mishaps, which arguably is the biggest concern of the three phases.
What’s at stake: Not a time for any one player to be a hero for the Huskies. It’s going to take all 11 guys on each side to win this one, against a very confident and determined Nebraska team in search of a high-profile road win against a non-conference opponent.
TNT pick: Cornhuskers, 29-19.
3 Taylor Martinez (QB) 6-1/205 Freshman None of the previous signal-callers scare the UW like this California product.
7 DeJon Gomes (SS/LB) 6-0/200 Senior An emerging talent who can turn an errant Locker throw into a “pick six.”
21 Prince Amukamara (CB) 6-1/205 Senior Arguably the top man-to-man cover guy in the nation.
24 Niles Paul (WR) 6-1/220 Senior Big-framed deep threat will keep UW honest; also active in returns and Wildcat.
94 Jared Crick (DT) 6-6/285 Junior Could disrupt Huskies’ ever-changing interior offensive line
7 Cody Bruns (WR) 5-11/177 Junior Possession receiver, holder and now backup punter.
8 Nate Williams (SS) 6-0/215 Senior Keeps making line-of-scrimmage plays early in games.
10 Jake Locker (QB) 6-3/230 Senior The weekend to wear two hats – mistake-free playmaker and game manager.
41 Cort Dennison (MLB) 6-1/236 Junior If he has any letdowns, chances are Huskies are in for a long day.
73 Drew Schaefer (C) 6-4/281 Sophomore Whoever lines up at the starting guard positions, it’s his job to monitor trouble.
Todd Milles, staff writer