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September 14, 2011
Huskies know what's coming against Nebraska
At least, Washington won't have to worry about the pass beating them on Saturday.
Not against Nebraska. Not against a quarterback who is averaging nearly as many yards rushing (150.1) as he is passing (167.5).
And not against a team that has thrown for one touchdown in two games.
After playing a couple of chuck-it-deep quarterbacks who tossed a combined 117 passes, Washington's DBs will get a reprieve this week against a run-first Nebraska. Unlike Eastern Washington and Hawaii, Nebraska runs the football. Even when Nebraska's quarterback Taylor Martinez drops back to pass, he's likely to run.
He's a threat with his legs, running the ball. But not so much passing it.
"It's a change up when they do throw it," Sarkisian said. "Or it's an obvious passing down when they do throw it. They're going to run the ball."
And why not?
Martinez, the fastest quarterback the Huskies will face this season, has run for five touchdowns. He's passed for one. After two games, Martinez has a team-high in rushing attempts (34) and rushing yards (330 gross).
The key to stopping Martinez is for each Husky to do his assignment.
"We can't have guys who are assigned to the quarterback try to go tackle the running back," Sarkisian said. "We have to stick to our assignments. Still be physical and still have the ability to tackle."
Playing in Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers have had a sellout for every game since 1962, will be a challenge for a young Husky team. Sarkisian's advice to his young quarterback, Keith Price, a redshirt sophomore who'll be making his fourth career start, is simple: Be who you are. Don't try to be anything more.
"He can't get caught up in the distractions and emotions of the game," Sarkisian said. "And don't change your demeanor of who you are and what makes you successful at home."
For Price to avoid sacks and avoid pressure, he's going to have to avoid third-and-long situations, predictable passing downs. To do that, the Huskies will have to be efficient on first and second downs.
Another item Sarkisian wants Price to add to his if-the-Huskies-are-going-to-win list is "don't turn the ball over." Don't force a pass at the 10, as Price did against Hawaii, resulting in a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown. And don't fumble. Especially early in the game, which would give the momentum to the crowd and the Cornhuskers.
This game will be the third between the two teams in a year. Both teams have won once, with the Huskies beating Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl - Washington's first bowl win in a decade. But Sarkisian doesn't think "revenge" will be much of a factor.
"It matters maybe for the fans and the build up," Sarkisian said. "But at the end of the day, the whistle is going to blow and we're going to kick off. And we're going to play football."
To win, Washington is also going to have to run the ball effectively.
Surprisingly, Chris Polk is again Washington's go-to back, topping 100 yards rushing in the first two games. After knee surgery on Aug. 18, after missing most of two-a-days, after being a questionable starter for the season opener, Polk is as he's always been - a tough tackle.
He can still run over would-be tacklers. And he can still juke them, faking right and going left, leaving an opponent behind.
Topping 100 yards against Eastern and again against Hawaii, Polk has rushed for 237 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. But Sarkisian isn't satisfied.
"We're not there yet," he said about his team's running game.
He said the holes are collapsing too soon. Sarkisian figured there's another 50 yards in his running game that he'd like to squeeze out.
If his team is leading in the closing minutes of Saturday's game, Sarkisian would like nothing more then to see a muscle drive, a pound-it-down-their-throats, time-eating drive. Washington couldn't do that in the closing against Eastern, which drove the length of the field before Desmond Trufant's game-saving interception in the end zone sealed it in the closing seconds.
While Nebraska is 2-0, outscoring its first two opponents 82-36, the Cornhuskers look vulnerable, beatable. Fresno State led 20-14 midway through the third quarter. But the Bulldogs couldn't keep lightning in a bottle as Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah ran back a kickoff 100 yards in the fourth quarter and finished with 211 yards in kick returns.
Special teams won't win it for Washington. But it could could lose it.
Gail Wood of UDubNation.com can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org