On Saturday, Steve Sarkisian takes his Huskies on a date with the history-rich Nebraska Cornhuskers, in a match-up that features two teams familiar enough with each other for it to almost feel like a conference game.
OK, maybe not that familiar with each other, but let's just say there won't be any shortage of film to study.
The two contests last year have so little in common it is almost like they were completely different teams that played. In a sense, they were. In the regular season match-up, Nebraska came in with a healthy Taylor Martinez and ran all over Washington in its own house. In the bowl game? Not so much.
For the first game in Seattle, Nebraska was a team that had dreams of a BCS Bowl, and the Huskies were not going to stand in their way. The Huskers physically manhandled the front lines of the Huskies and imposed their will for four quarters in an absolutely ugly game.
Washington, who had come into the game hoping to keep it close, had their two main offensive weapons held to their worst output of the season. The Huskies, to their credit, didn't let that smackdown derail their season. They turned around and, for the second consecutive year, upset USC the following week. It was the first time the Huskies had won in the Coliseum since 1996.
The Huskers kept right on rolling for two more games until they met the University of Texas, who gave them their first loss of the season. The Cornhuskers would lose only one more before the Big 12 title game. Rolling into that championship game, Nebraska was 10-2 and still hoped to join the BCS party.
But the Oklahoma Sooners had different plans. They defeated Nebraska 23-20, sending them to their second straight trip to the Holiday Bowl, which pitted them against a team they had pummeled into their home turf, the Huskies.
While Nebraska was disappointed about not being in a BCS Bowl, they were probably more so at facing a team that they had handled with ease earlier in the season. But the Huskies were ecstatic to be in the Holiday Bowl. Unlike Nebraska, who had fallen down into the Holiday bowl, Washington had fought hard to be bowl eligible. It was fortunate for Washington that USC was on probation and that the there were a low number of bowl eligible teams, which is how Washington found themselves in the respectable Holiday Bowl.
All this set up an underdog team who would upset the favorite. The Huskies were simply more excited to be playing in that bowl game. Certainly, that had to be a factor, especially considering how one-sided the first contest was. But that doesn't tell us the whole story.
When Nebraska rolled into Seattle they were riding the "T-Magic" wave, and a healthy Martinez ran over and around the Washington defense. They brought a physicality on defense the Husky offense had not yet seen. They made it impossible for receivers to get separation or for Locker to scramble. They stuffed Polk for his worst output of the season.
Going into the Holiday Bowl, it was easy to assume that Nebraska would win handily. Instead, we had a complete reversal. Polk and the Washington running attack ran over Nebraska. The NFL caliber corners still held the Washington wide receivers and Locker in check. The difference was that Washington knew how physical they needed to be. They rode their power running game to a victory over a team that expected to face the same soft Huskies they had seen in Seattle on week three.
Now we are set for the rubber match in Lincoln, not just of the current series but of all time. This time around, Nebraska will not only once again have a healthy Martinez, they will have also learned that this Husky team has grown so much since week three of last year. Nebraska saw a offense that still consisted of mostly Polk, but a defense that was really hitting their stride. This time around, Washington is rolling out a very diverse offense with a lot more pass-catching targets, and, of course, the 4-5 yards a carry beast Chris Polk.
Both teams are going to be up for the game this time around. Nebraska's offense plays right into the Huskies' strength on defense in the run game. Washington was torched by Eastern Washington and Hawaii through the air, but they have not been tested on the ground. Nebraska gave up a lot of yards to Fresno State both through the air and on the ground, but the Huskers came away with the victory anyway. Nebraska was able to physically manhandle Washington's receivers in Seattle, but the presence of big tight end Austin Seferian Jenkins should give the Huskies a better passing attack, as the tight end position was sorely missed last season.
This game should meet somewhere in the middle score-wise between the two contests from last year. It looks to be a close game and is one that could put Sarkisian at 2-1 against Pelini and the Huskers.
UW- 35 Neb-28