Washington Upends Nebraska With Dominant 19-7 Holiday Bowl Win

December 31, 2010

Tri Le / The Daily Sports Herald

San Diego, California – With a powerful ground attack and a stingy defense, the revenge-minded Washington Huskies overpowered a flat, mistake-prone Nebraska Cornhusker squad, 19-7, on a chilly Thursday night before 57,921 enthusiastic fans at the Holiday Bowl.

The Huskies entered the game with a healthy grudge after suffering an ugly 56-21 defeat at home to Nebraska earlier in the year.  Star quarterback Jake Locker had a particularly poor game in that loss with two picks.

But if that defeat was not enough, Washington's incentive was further bolstered by the fact that the program was making its first bowl appearance under the tenure of coach Steve Sarkisian.

The hungry Huskies immediately set a physical tone for the game on Nebraska’s opening drive, as linebacker Victor Aiyewa put a big hit on Nebraska star quarterback Taylor Martinez, jarring the ball loose. Although Nebraska would retain possession, that lack of ball security proved to be prophetic only a few plays later on a Cornhusker gadget play.

Taking a direct snap, running back Rex Burkhead rolled right then stopped, looking to pass back to his left.  Aiyewa then promptly leveled Burkhead, forcing another fumble that this time was scooped up by Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu and returned to the Nebraska 21.

Coach Sarkisian elected to go for the jugular right away, calling a halfback option pass for Jesse Callier similar to the one attempted by Nebraska on the prior play. This time however, quarterback Jake Locker successfully made the reception for a 16-yard gain and a first and goal.

Washington eventually pounded it in from 3 yards, as they spread the Husker defense with four wideouts and provided running back Chris Polk ample room off right tackle for an easy score and a 7-0 lead.

After a later 39-yard Erik Folk field goal increased the Washington lead to 10-0, Nebraska rallied in the second quarter behind Martinez.

Facing a third and thirteen at their own 48-yard line, Martinez made a nice cut to the outside on a designed keeper for a gain of 20 yards and a first down. Martinez was also hit late out of bounds on the play, moving the ball to the Washington 17-yard line as a result of the personal foul.

Three plays later Martinez would trim the Husky lead to 10-7 when he found Kyler Reed open in the endzone on a 15-yard out pattern against man coverage.

Unfortunately, for Nebraska and coach Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers would get no closer.

At the start of the third quarter, the Washington offense began with excellent field position at their own 47 following a Nebraska facemask penalty on the kickoff return.  From that point, Locker took over, converting on a key third down play with a clutch 26-yard pass to D'Andre Goodwin.

On the next play, Locker would cap off the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run on a designed keeper to the right side.  The 4-play, 53-yard drive would give Washington with a 17-7 lead with 13:18 left in the third quarter.

Tri Le / The Daily Sports Herald
The Washington defense would then crush the Cornhuskers' hopes a few minutes later when Husky linebacker Mason Foster sacked Martinez on third down for a 9-yard loss.

Not only did Foster's play force a Nebraska punt, but it also knocked Martinez out of the game with an apparent leg injury. He would be replaced by backup Cody Green.

The sack was one of many successful efforts on the day for the Washington defense, as that unit created 2 turnovers, forced 3 fumbles, had 5 sacks, and limited Nebraska to 189 total yards.

Foster clearly was the ringleader, tallying 12 tackles (9 solo), 2 sacks, and 3 TFL's.

Sarkisian stated that his defense was "physical up front, but maybe the biggest thing was our gap integrity.  We held our gaps extremely well, and we tackled much better this time around."

As sharp as the Huskies looked, the Cornhuskers meanwhile could not seem to get out of their own way.

Nebraska dropped passes and had 12 penalties for 102 yards.  On one sequence in the second quarter, Nebraska suffered back to back delay of game penalties.

"I'm embarrassed," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I obviously didn't get them ready to play. I thought we were ready to play. I liked our plan. We didn't execute very well. Obviously we didn't play our best football. It starts with me."

Another error would lead to a safety and a 19-7 deficit when Nebraska was flagged for an offensive holding penalty in its own end zone with 13:38 remaining in the game. That safety would undermine Nebraska's lone success of the second half -- a gutty goal line stand by the "Blackshirts" defense at the start of the fourth quarter.

Tri Le / The Daily Sports Herald

Nebraska made one last attempt to cut the lead, as Green drove the 'Huskers down to the Washington 35 late in the fourth quarter.  However, a false start penalty, another Foster sack, and an incomplete pass on fourth down, quickly eliminated that opportunity.

For Locker, the victory was a sweet finish to an up-and-down collegiate career.  Having endured a winless season in 2008, Locker and the program rebounded under the leadership of Sarkisian.

"This is the experience that I came back for," Locker said. "It's been some frustrating years, but to go out this way and see this program off this way, I'm going to be their biggest fan from here on out. Every Saturday I'm going to be tuning in to watch the Huskies play. I'm proud to be part of this program."

With the win, Washington improved to 7-6.  Nebraska, ranked 18th in the BCS, fell to 10-4.

Nebraska ended an era by playing its final game as a member of the Big 12 Conference. It will join the Big 10 next year.

DSH Player of the Game: Jake Locker

Jake Locker Scrambles
Tri Le / The Daily Sports Herald

Although Husky running back Chris Polk had the more impressive numbers with 34 carries for 178 yards and one touchdown, Locker was the true star of the game.

In the second half, Locker was a difference-maker, running for first downs on both designed keepers and impromptu scrambles.

He also managed the game brilliantly, avoiding sacks and wisely throwing the ball out of bounds repeatedly when his receivers were covered.  In doing so, he prevented Washington from committing the crucial errors that might have allowed Nebraska back into the game.

Despite completing only 5 of 16 passes for 56 yards, Locker continually moved the offense and put his team in a position to score with his 83 rushing yards.  In fact, Washington's margin of victory could have been much greater had the Huskies not missed two field goals and a later fourth and goal opportunity from the one.

On one fourth quarter drive, Locker put on a show with two highlight-worthy plays.  On the first, Locker faked that he was running out of bounds, and then made a quick cut up field for a short gain, eluding a defender in the process. Two plays later, he would somehow make a nice throw to his safety valve receiver in the flat just as he was about to get sacked.

Ultimately, Locker's ability to break contain and to make plays with his feet proved to be the difference in the game.

Post Game Notes & Comments
Tri Le / The Daily Sports Herald

1. The Huskies had 21 first downs to only 14 for Nebraska. Washington had 340 total yards, including 268 on the ground. Nebraska rushed for 91 yards.

2.  Washington converted 6 of 15 third downs.  Nebraska only converted 4 of 14 third downs, but did convert 2 of its 3 fourth downs.

3.  With 8:40 left in first half, Locker absorbed a helmet-to-helmet shot that at first glance appeared to cause an injury. Locker stated that he was not hurt at all, but simply had an equipment problem due to his helmet covering his eyes.

"It probably looked worse than it really was," he said. "My helmet hit my nose and it was numb. I couldn't open my eyes. They asked me what was wrong, and I said, 'I can't see.' I couldn't feel my helmet down over my eyes. Everything was black."

He would return on the next series.

4.  The Washington defense displayed good lateral team speed, as they often gang-tackled the Nebraska ballcarriers on the perimeter.

5.  Former UCLA and NBA great Bill Walton took part in the coin toss.

6.  When I asked coach Sarkisian about the improvements in Locker's game over the past year, he noted that "we're seeing him get to secondary receivers more, you saw that some tonight, and his decision-making.  I thought another key factor in this game was not turning the ball over. We did that a couple of times the first time around."

7.  Sarkisian said the key to the game would be playing "physical" football, "not just on defense, but on offense, and on special teams.  And we did that tonight."

8. Chris Polk won the Holiday Bowl's Offensive MVP Award.  Mason Foster was the Defensive MVP.

9.  The teams tied Holiday Bowl records for fewest points (26), fewest touchdowns (3), fewest passing attempts (40), and fewest completions (16).  Locker did not complete a pass in the first half.

10. Washington has a 1-3 record in the Holiday Bowl.  Nebraska's record is 1-2.


By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

Photographs by Tri Le
Photography Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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