Holiday Bowl Preview: Yet Another Look at the Washington Huskies

Nebraska will need to find someone to replace Baker Steinkuhler up front to slow Chris Polk and Jake Locker. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Husker fans will become very familiar with Washington, as the Holiday Bowl will be the second of three games within 365 days. The Huskers 56-21 victory in Seattle was decisive, but things have changed over the last three months. Washington finished the regular season 6-6, with impressive victories over Southern Cal, Oregon State, UCLA, and Cal.  Husky fans couldn't have been too surprised by losing badly to Oregon and Stanford, but had to be bitterly disappointed in the blowout loss to Arizona.

We previewed the Huskies prior to the first meeting in September, so there's no point in rehashing that.  Instead, let's look at some of the factors that could make this game different than the first one.

Chris Polk

Back in September, Polk found some running room against the Huskers, but as the Huskies fell behind, opportunities for Polk decreased. Which was a problem for the Huskies, because Polk was the Huskies best offensive weapon in that game.  When Chris Polk carried the ball at least twenty times this season, the Huskies went 4-0.  In the Huskies final game against Washington State, Polk carried the ball 29 times for 284 yards to put Polk over the 1,000 yard mark for the season. Look for Washington to try to run the ball more against the Huskers in this game.

That would seem to be a good strategy, especially when you consider how Oklahoma State was able to move the ball on the Huskers by balancing runs by Kendall Hunter with passes from Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon. Problem is that only worked in the second quarter (granted, it worked REALLY, REALLY well) of that game, and Nebraska's defense has improved from there.  The return of Will Compton really helped the Huskers defend the run as the season progressed.

Jake Locker

Locker had a horrible performance against the Huskers. Some of that was due to the Blackshirts, but even so, Locker made plenty of mistakes on his own.  Locker was inconsistent much of the season, but if he can depend on Chris Polk can help take some of the pressure off, but don't look for Locker to play that poorly in the Holiday Bowl.

Here's where the suspension of Baker Steinkuhler could come into play. Steinkuhler had the Huskers only sack of Locker in the first game, so it'll be dependent on the rest of the line to fill that void.

Cort Dennison

Dennison, the Huskies third leading tackler this season at linebacker, missed the Husker game with a concussion. Considering how the Huskers gouged the Huskies on the ground without him, Cortland's presence can only help them out.  But keep in mind that with Dennison only missing one game, the Huskies still finished the season 103rd in rushing defense. Look for Nebraska to try to pound the ball at Washington once again; the yards probably won't come in quite as large of chunks.

Taylor Martinez

Ever since that hit just before halftime of the Missouri game, Martinez was never the same.  He missed two games, and his performance in the games he played in tended to get worse and worse as the competition improved. Some people like to point out that he didn't have a rushing touchdown since the Kansas State game, conveniently forgetting his passing performance against Oklahoma State and Missouri. With over three weeks off since that horrible Oklahoma performance, and nearly six since reinjuring his ankle against Texas A&M, the question is whether Martinez has recovered enough to become that electric game-changer at quarterback.  Martinez has typically bounced back strong after a bad performance, and if he's had a chance to review what all went wrong against the Sooners, he could be ready to amaze the college football world once again.

Motivation

Washington fans wonder if Nebraska is disappointed to have to play Washington again.  No doubt, they were disappointed when the bowl matchup was announced. But I get the feeling that all disappeared within a few days. Nobody doubts Bo Pelini's ability to have the Huskers ready to play in a bowl game, and he knows how to balance the work and the fun. (And if the work isn't there, he'll definitely make sure the fun gets curtailed.) This team knows why they are in San Diego, and they'll be ready to play.

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