Hard to believe that we are only four days away from our first bowl game since 2002. As Paul McCartney and John Lennon once wrote it has certainly been "A long and winding road" for the Huskies over the past eight years. The team may not be playing in a Rose Bowl or National Championship game but this years invitation to the Holiday Bowl is a great reward for the staff and players who have worked so hard to clean up the mess of the past.
Nebraska is going to be a really tough test. The last time these two teams played the Huskers were at a completely different level. It is going to be really interesting to see how much or if the Huskies have closed the gap between the two teams.
The five biggest factors (after losing 56-21 in the regular season there could be 100, but hey - lets cut the list down a bit) that Washington needs to reverse going into this game is the play of Jake Locker, Cort Dennison, line play on both sides of the ball, the special teams, and the play calling of Steve Sarkisian.
Jake had arguably the worst day of his career against the black shirt defense. His Heisman campaign died in Husky Stadium that day. For Washington to have a chance at winning this game Jake needs to play loose and be spot on.
Jake is more than capable of a better performance in this one and I think he is taking the redemption angle to heart in this one. A great performance in this game can vault him back into the top five of the NFL draft. I think a healthy Jake is capable of doing just that if he has more than 1.5 seconds to get rid of the ball.
Cort Dennison missed the earlier game with a concussion suffered three days before kickoff. His absence was a huge reason that the defense struggled against Cornhuskers. Cort gives 110% on every play but what is more important is how he leads and makes his teammates better. Having Cort on the field will make a difference for Washington in this contest.
Washington was dominated up front the last time these two teams played. The Cornhuskers are simply bigger, stronger, and faster on both sides of the ball. The hope is Washington has matured enough over the season to be able to make up some significant ground in this area.
The special teams were a disaster during the first part of the season. One announcer called it the worst special teams performance he had ever seen by a division one football team in his entire life. We saw improvement throughout the year but this group never became what you could call rock solid. The Huskies need to be at the very least competitive in this part of the game to be able to stay with Nebraska. they can't give up points and field position on special teams.
We all love Coach Steve Sarkisian but his play calling left us scratching our heads at times during the season. Early on it seemed he was trying to make this team something it wasn't. Washington needs to concentrate on running the ball against the Huskers because you are not going to beat this team through the air. Of course to do that the offensive line needs to show up and open some holes. Count on Sark to provide some inventive scheming to open up some holes for his offensive backfield.
Vegas favors the Huskers by 13-14 points from the onset so this is predicted to be one of the more one sided match-ups of the holiday season. Experts think the rematch will be closer than the initial meeting but Nebraska will prevail. Tough to argue with that because the Huskers have a decided edge on both line going into this one.
I think Washington is going to play this one loose as a long neck goose and the Huskers will be the tight team this time. Nebraska is traveling to San Diego for the second time in two years and they are playing a team that doesn't excite them. In the minds of most Cornhusker players and fans they would rather be at home practicing against the scout team than playing Washington again.
The obvious edge in this contest is that Nebraska seems uninspired and the Huskies have nothing to lose. That is the exact type of recipe that inspires upsets. I think Nebraska is in trouble the minute they step on the plane to go to San Diego. This is a team in danger of just showing up and going through the motions. They have everything to lose and basically nothing to gain. Washington on the other hand is in a exact polar situation.
Psychologically the Huskies just may have an advantage in this one. I remember the 1978 Rose Bowl when Washington showed up in much the same position as they are today. Nobody expected them to win. Everyone expected heavily favored Michigan to crush them but with an emotional edge going in, a superb game plan, and some tricks at the end Washington was able to pull off the upset.
Back to reality for a second. This team isn't nearly as good as the 1978 Rose Bowl team. They don't have the beef on the lines like they had back then. This team is till a few years away from playing at a peak level. They do have some pretty talented skill position players and if they can gather some early momentum I like their chances. when one team really doesn't want to be their and the other is thrilled to be there anything can happen.
Both Washington and Nebraska visited the San Diego Zoo during team outings on Sunday.
Odds and Ends
The Huskies expected to be practicing on grass but because the fields in the area are so soggy from rain and torn up they are practicing on artifical turf. Hugh Millen thinks the team that will have the biggest advantage is the one that makes the best selection in the cleats. That makes a lot fo sense because if you don't have the right traction on a muddy field it can mean a long day
Ryan Tolar tweaked his knee a bit at practice this weekend but is expected to play. Talia Chrichton had a small set back but it is still possible he will play which would be a huge boost for a defensive line which is down in numbers headed into this game.
Chris Robinson is back to practice and is expected to play. cody Bruns may be recovered enough to hold for kicks. Sean Parker still hasn't been cleared for contact. greg walker has been suffering from back spasms but is expected to be able to play. Johri and Zach Fogerson are in San Diego but are not expected to play.
Quote of the Week: Sark on Jake Locker - "I hope he does better...if he doesn't we're in trouble."
D'Andre Goodwin - “I’m excited for the game. Excited that we’ve turned this program around as seniors and as a coaching staff and I’m just excited to have another game to play.”
Q Richardson - “If you don’t loosen up and you’re all tight, you’re going to make mistakes, so you just have to out with no fear and just play like we know we can play.”
Sark went on to say he was surprised that TE Chris Izbicki quit the team. Chris has two quarters left at school and he will graduate from the UW.
Sark thinks Devin Aguilar is 100% back and ready to step up his game after suffering from nagging injuries during the season. James Johnson who has sat out most of the year has also looked pretty good during post season practices.
The Alamo replaced the Holiday as the number two bowl for the Pac 10. The reason is simple...they didn't increase their pay off and ESPN which holds all the cards demoted them. The Holiday Bowl says they didn't want to raise ticket prices and didn't want to get into a bidding situation.
The game will sell over 60,000 tickets this season in the middle of a deep recession so perhaps they made the right decision while still being on track to become a BCS Bowl in the future. Even though they get a 6-6 Washington in a weird quirk this season the bowl is happy because Washington is buying a lot of tickets.
The Insight Bowl in Phoenix which features teams from the Big 12 and Big 10 is definitely on Larry Scott's target list when the contracts with those two conferences expire. It pays around the same amount as the Alamo Bowl and now that the Big 12 has lost some of its luster by retraction you can consider that game up for bid.
The Pac 12 added the New Mexico Bowl to its post season line up. I don't think I would mind visiting Albuquerque in during the holidays. Sounds like an interesting road trip even though this is far from being a premier game and venue....what can I say...it beats Fresno and the old Raisin Bowl.