NU-UW rematch focuses on offense
Huskers rank ninth nationally in rushing and 28th in scoring
Nebraska and Washington are going to be quite familiar with each other by the time the first month of the 2011 season comes around.
The 17th-ranked Cornhuskers and the Huskies will play the second of three match-ups in a 12-month span when they meet in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday night in San Diego.
Nebraska defeated Washington 56-21 in Seattle on Sept. 18, and after this meeting, the programs will play in Lincoln next September as part of the home-and-home agreement.
While the Cornhuskers knew they would see the Huskies again in the future, they weren't counting on it being in the Holiday Bowl.
Nebraska had its sight set on a BCS bowl, but that hope was lost with a 23-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.
The Cornhuskers led the Sooners 17-0 in the second quarter but had four turnovers and failed to score after halftime for the first time all season.
"It's pretty obvious what the level of disappointment is," coach Bo Pelini said following the game. "We came in here to win the Big 12 championship. We didn't get it done."
Instead, Nebraska (10-3) concludes its tenure as a Big 12 member - it moves to the Big Ten next year - with a second consecutive trip to the Holiday Bowl and third overall. The Cornhuskers beat Arizona 33-0 in 2009.
"It's the opportunity to win our 11th game," Pelini said, "and that's what we're looking to do."
Washington is looking to post a seventh victory, something that didn't seem possible in early November. The Huskies were 3-6 after a 53-16 loss at then-No. 1 Oregon on Nov. 6, but they won their final three games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2002.
It wasn't easy, as Washington needed a 27-yard touchdown pass from Jake Locker to Jermaine Kearse with 44 seconds left to beat Washington State 35-28 in its season finale Dec. 4.
It was the fourth time the Huskies scored in the final minute or overtime to win, and those victories helped them reach a bowl two seasons after they went 0-12 and brought in Steve Sarkisian as coach.
"I can't be more proud of this football team," Sarkisian said. "Two years ago I met them for the first time. There wasn't a lot of school spirit; lots of heads down. We are proud Huskies, and we are proud to represent the University of Washington."
His Huskies are eager to prove they are a different team than the one that got blown out by Nebraska.
"I think really the main thing for us is it's an opportunity to get revenge on them a little bit I guess because they came in here and they whooped us pretty good," safety Nate Williams said. "That's really all I can say about that. I think we'll definitely end up having a big chip on our shoulder and that will naturally just give us a little bit of motivation."
Taylor Martinez led the way for the Cornhuskers in that win, running for 137 yards and three touchdowns - including the longest TD run by a freshman in Nebraska history at 80 yards - while throwing for 150 yards and a score.
Martinez struggled in the Big 12 title game after sitting out the regular-season finale against Colorado because of injuries to his right ankle and left foot. He was 12 of 24 for 143 yards with an interception, getting sacked seven times and fumbling three times, although only one was lost.
Locker has been dealing with rib and thigh injuries since October, but he played well during the final two regular-season games of his senior year, passing for 463 yards and three TDs in a pair of road wins.
"I really don't know how all this works, since I've never been to a bowl," Locker told the Huskies' official website. "It puts a smile on my face. It feels good."
This will be the last meaningful game in which Locker, who strongly considered leaving Washington after his junior season, can impress the pro scouts. He's still widely projected to be a first-round pick despite a subpar year which included a 4-of-20, 71-yard performance with two interceptions the first time this season against Nebraska.
Locker and the offense may have to be at their best to stay with the Huskers, who average 32.7 points and are 10th in the FBS with 259.6 rushing yards per game. Roy Helu Jr. has run for 1,211 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Martinez has 942 rushing yards and 12 TDs.
Helu ran 10 times for 110 yards and two scores against Washington.
The Huskies have a solid running back as well in Chris Polk, who has amassed 1,238 yards and eight scores. He ran for 284 yards - second-most in school history - and two TDs against Washington State.
Polk will be facing a Nebraska defense that held him to 55 yards but will be missing starting tackle Baker Steinkuhler, suspended for this game after being ticketed on suspicion of drunken driving Dec. 7.
Steinkuhler started every game and registered 46 tackles with 3 1/2 sacks to help Nebraska allow the 10th-fewest yards in the FBS at 304.2 per game.
"You have a little bit of familiarity," Pelini said. "They're a much better football team than we played in whatever that was, September, I guess. Hopefully we are, too."
No. 17 Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6) at 10 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
- Series Record: Nebraska leads 4-3-1.
- Last Meeting: Nebraska 56-21 at Seattle, Sept. 18, 2010
What's at Stake
This is a rematch of Nebraska's 56-21 blowout of the Huskies in Seattle on Sept. 18. The Cornhuskers are coming off a disappointing 23-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game in which they blew a 17-point lead. The Huskies needed a 35-28 win over Washington State, the last-place team in the Pac-10, to become bowl eligible. The teams are scheduled to play again in Lincoln, Neb., on Sept. 17, 2011.
Washington didn't put up much of a fight at home against the Huskers, allowing 533 yards of total offense, including 383 rushing. Taylor Martinez (137 yards, 3 TDs), Roy Helu Jr. (110 yards, 2 TDs) and Rex Burkhead (104 yards, 1 TD) combined for the fifth triple-100-yard game in school history and the first since 2001.
Players to Watch
Nebraska: Redshirt freshman QB Taylor Martinez is from Corona in Southern California. He had five 100-yard rushing games, including 241 against Kansas State. For the season, he's rushed for 942 yards and 12 touchdowns, and thrown for 1,578 yards and nine TDs, with six INTs. He's coming off a disappointing performance against Oklahoma, when he was 12 of 24 for 143 yards with an interception. He was sacked seven times and had three fumbles, losing one.
Washington: QB Jake Locker will be playing his last college game. He passed up a chance to leave early for the NFL draft in order to play his senior season, then the Huskies fell well short of the Pac-10 championship. Locker, who missed the Oregon game with a broken rib, has thrown for 2,209 yards and 17 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.
Facts and Figures
Two seasons removed from going 0-12, Washington is in a bowl game for the first time since the 2002 season. ... The Huskies will be making their fourth Holiday Bowl appearance. They lost their previous three, to Colorado in 1996, Kansas State in 1999 and Texas in 2001. ... Nebraska is in the Holiday Bowl for the second straight year after beating Arizona 33-0 last season. It was the first shutout in the Holiday Bowl, which has a history of wacky, high-scoring games. ... Nebraska also played in the Holiday Bowl in 1998, losing to Arizona.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.