I'm not feeling nearly as confident about the Washington game as most of my Husker fan counterparts. Jake Locker is the only Husky player anyone has ever heard of but that doesn't mean Washington is lacking in playmakers. Nor does it mean Nebraska isn't capable of giving this game away. There are some danger spots to be aware of, covered after the jump.
I'll give you a hint. Turnovers isn't one of them. That's a factor in every game. Too easy. I like it hard. Ha!
Chris Polk Running Up the Middle
Jake Locker, Jake Locker, Jake Locker. That's the only name Husker fans seem to recognize, but that's understandable given the amount of press the guy has gotten being a prize NFL prospect. The real problem for Nebraska is running back Chris Polk. So far, the Blackshirts haven't been great as stopping direct running plays, giving up 155 yards to Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey, and flashes of that problem were seen again against Idaho.
The problem isn't the defensive line, it's the linebackers. Will Compton's injury has made a difference, and while Lavonte David has been all over the field, he's still learning the system. Whether it's Eric Martin, Alonzo Whaley, or someone else, the middle must be contained.
Polk has already run for 209 yards this season, averaging 5.81 ypc. He's just a sophomore, but so is Rex Burkhead.
Lack of A Vertical Passing Threat
Earlier this week, Bo Pelini stated that the lack of downfield passes early in the season is a calculated tactic. To be blunt, that statement smells a bit. Against Idaho, Husker fans saw Taylor Martinez miss a wide open Mike McNeill for a sure touchdown pass. McNeill's frustration was apparent.
It's one thing for the coaches to tell us that Martinez has done well in throwing during practice, quite another during a game, and even more so on the road. Niles Paul is the only Husker receiver in the top 100 nationally, and he's tied at 97th. If Martinez can't hit the long throws and utilize weapons like Paul and McNeill, the Washington defense will have an advantage in stopping the run game.
I've already mentioned crowd noise as a factor in a Husker loss during this series, and it could easily happen again. It's easy to say that you won't be affected, but that doesn't take into account that your linemen may not able to hear you audible or your signals unless you're under center. That could seriously alter Nebraska's game plan.
Could there really be 20k-25k Husker fans showing up in Seattle this weekend? I don't doubt it, but I'll believe it when I see it (and if that's the case it will be GRAND). If that's the case, it'll make a big difference in the game.
Penalties Taking Points Off the Board
The Huskers lost their first road game in 2009 at Virginia Tech, and you could point to penalties as the cause. Third quarter, first-and-goal at the six. Zac Lee hits Mike McNeill for an apparent touchdown, but it's called back on a holding penalty. Penalty after penalty struck, and the Huskers ended up with no points.
Those are the kinds of mistakes a team shouldn't be making in Bo Pelini's third year, but they're still around. If this team takes points off the board because of these kinds of mistakes again this season, you have to wonder how much progress they're really making.
Taylor Martinez was an unknown quantity when he took the field against Western Kentucky. That's not the case anymore. Washington will be keying on him throughout the game in an effort to make sure he doesn't blaze away with one of his long runs early in the game.
If Washington can get an early lead, it may force Nebraska into an offense they're not fully prepared to run. Taylor Martinez will be forced to throw the ball, something that's not his strength at this time. If this happens, Washington fans may be a bigger factor in the game and minimize all those people in red.