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May 12, 2011Nebraska will play an opponent very familiar to them in week three of the regular season when the Washington Huskies come to Lincoln for the rubber match of what's become a three-game series over the last year.
The Huskies lose quite a bit from their 2010 squad that went 7-6, but they also return key players such as running back Chris Polk and defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who both gave NU trouble in the Holiday Bowl last December.
As HuskerOnline.com continues our spring wrap-up features of NU's opponents, today we caught up with Washington sideline reporter and sports talk radio host Elise Woodward to get her thoughts and perspective of the Huskies.
What did the Holiday Bowl win do for this program over the off-season?
"I think for Washington it was finally a feeling of we're competitive again after a decade of a lot of pain and suffering. It was a signature type of win for Steve Sarkisian and his staff and everybody knows they're heading in the right direction.
"When you look at what happened when Nebraska came out here in September, it was embarrassing on every level for Washington. To come back a couple of months later in a bowl game and show that type of improvement and ability to beat a really talented Nebraska team, I just think it solidifies this team is heading in the right direction. Steve Sarkisian has a plan and its working and I think guys have really bought in if they haven't already. It just solidified everybody's feeling they're heading the right way."
The obvious question is how has Washington gone about replacing Jake Locker this spring at quarterback?
"There are two different guys battling for the starting spot. Keith Price, who's going to be a redshirt sophomore. He got a start last year at Oregon when they were ranked No. 1 and he was fine. He obviously didn't win the game, but they were in the game all the way up to the third quarter and it was really special teams that created so many problems. He got his feet wet and people feel good with how much he's improved and he looked really good in the spring and in the spring game he had three passing touchdowns and a running touchdown and he's taken the lead for that job.
"The guy that he's battling with is a redshirt freshman Nick Montana, who is Joe's son. I would say Nick was ok and seems to be learning the system and he's just a freshman. Neither one of them had a problem with turnovers, which is what you always worry about for a young kid. Neither one of them made bad decisions during the spring. Nick was ok and Keith was just better in almost every facet. He clearly was the frontrunner and Steve Sarkisian named him the leader going into fall ball. He didn't name him the starter, but he deserved to be a front runner heading into the summer when leaders really develop."
What is the overall strength of this team coming out the spring?
"There's no question that Chris Polk is the best player on the offense and they're going to ride him as much as they can. He's lost about 10 pounds and he looked fantastic in the spring. He's always been known for his power and dragging tacklers and yards after contact and making something out of nothing. He's really worked on his speed and breaking off long runs. Last year he played really well down the stretch in the Apple Cup and the Holiday Bowl.
"He's a guy that's had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and he's been really, really good. He's a guy that had speed in high school, but hasn't been known as a guy that has breakaway speed to get out on the edge and just take it, and that's what he wants to work on heading into this season. He will definitely be the focal point of the offense next year."
What is the biggest question or concern you have at this point other than quarterback for Washington?
"The biggest question would be the linebacker spot, where they lose Mason Foster who was a third round draft pick by Tampa Bay and they lost their other starter who will probably be picked up in the NFL as a free agent. He was the Pac 10 leader in tackles for loss, and that was his first year at linebacker. Nick Holt and that crew are going to have to find some starters at the linebacker spot and right now there's one guy back there who is clearly the leader in Cort Dennison who will be a senior and a captain.
"Other than that it's going to be two young guys that will get broken in at the linebacker spot. The good news is their defensive line has a lot of depth and real quality player in defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who created a lot of problems in the Holiday Bowl and the second half of last year. He should take some pressure off the young linebackers because he can take on two guys."
What are the realistic win-loss expectations for Washington coming out the spring and heading into the new Pac 12 Conference?
"I think for this team last year they crossed over and finally made it to a bowl game and finished 7-6, but they lose Jake Locker and their best defensive player Mason Foster. How good is this team going to be? Well I think the expectations will be they'll be a team that wins seven games next year again. I don't think anybody knows though for sure, because it depends on how good their quarterback play is. Nobody really knows with a new quarterback you are working in with how he'll handle pressure, stress and taking care of the football.
"Defensively, they've got a really good defensive line and they have some really good skill guys in Chris Polk and the wide receivers they return on offense. I think they fit anywhere between six wins and eight wins is probably to be expected with a brand new quarterback. I would say though they'll be 2-0 heading into that game with Nebraska in Lincoln. They open with home games against Division II national champion Eastern Washington and Hawaii. That game in Lincoln will probably be two undefeated teams looking at each other more than likely, so that will be fun."