I must admit, I wasn't paying much attention to Washington based on my scoreboard watching. Washington narrowly held off 1-AA Eastern Washington 30-27 to open the season, then defeated Hawai'i 40-32 last weekend. Didn't scare you, right? Well, let's not forget that Hawai'i opened the season with a convincing 34-17 victory over Colorado. The Buffies followed that up with a 36-33 loss to Cal, which dominated Fresno State the week before. So when you combine that with how Nebraska has played so far this season, there's no reason to be overconfident.
One of the main questions facing Washington this season is how Keith Price will do at quarterback. Truth be told, Jake Locker was horrible against Nebraska last season, so Price likely could be an upgrade. After a shaky performance in week one, Price exploded against the Warriors, completing 18 of 25 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns. But thus far, Price hasn't used his legs much, rushing eight times for minus 19 yards. I do think that Price will need to utilize his legs this week though.
Chris Polk is still the dominant running back, averaging 5.2 yards a carry this season. Considering the problems Nebraska had stopping him last season (and the problems from last week), look for Nebraska to concentrate hard on stopping Polk. Devin Aguilar is the leading receiver, but Price is really spreading the ball around this season. The Washington defense is struggling this season on pass defense, ranking dead last at #120 in division 1-A, allowing 403 yards a game. Conversely, Washington ranks seventh nationally in rush defense, allowing only 43 yards a game. I suspect that's more of result of the styles of Eastern Washington and Hawai'i...
After the jump, we'll revisit our summer preview of the Washington Huskies.
Normally when we preview opponents, we have a fairly good idea what to expect from our conference opponents, and have to dig a bit for our non-conference foes. This is not a normal year; Nebraska's move to the Big Ten means a completely new set of opponents. But last year's bizarre Holiday Bowl rematch with Washington means that we are pretty familiar with the Huskies. Last year in Seattle, Nebraska blitzed the Huskies and rolled to an impressive 56-21 victory thanks to the talents of redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez. But in San Diego, Martinez was still hobbled with his ankle injury, and the Huskers had no desire to play that evening. Add in a whole bunch of Husker mistakes, and Washington pulled even on the season with a 19-7 victory.
But this isn't a preview of Nebraska... it's a preview of Washington. And with eight returning starters on both offense and defense, the Huskies should be better than they were in 2010.
QB: Either NFL scouts didn't watch Jake Locker's performances against Nebraska, or they figured that he'll never face a Bo Pelini defense again. Despite completing only nine of 36 passes in the two games, the Tennessee Titans still drafted Locker with the eighth pick in the NFL draft. Based on spring practice, it appears that sophomore Keith Price will be the starter in the fall. Price completed 20 of 28 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the Washington spring game, plus added 53 yards rushing on five carries. Remember how Locker tended to hurt Nebraska more with his legs than his arm? Well, Price is also a dual-threat quarterback; probably a better runner, and considering how poorly Locker threw, couldn't be much worse through the air. Also in contention for playing time is Nick Montana. Yep, none other than the son of Joe. Montana is more of a passing quarterback, but like his dad, has enough mobility to get out of trouble.
RB: Bad news for Husker fans: Chris Polk is back. In the first matchup in Seattle, Nebraska broke out to a big lead and limited the opportunities for Polk. In the San Diego rematch, Washington jumped out to the lead, and Polk pounded away for 177 yards. Looking at the type of offenses Nebraska will see in the Big Ten, the Blackshirts will need to find a way to show they can stop a back like Polk, who rushed for 1,415 yards in 2010. Polk's backup, sophomore Jesse Callier, rushed for 433 yards last season, 57 of which came against Nebraska in September. Pretty solid one-two punch in the backfield, and exactly what a new quarterback needs.
WR: Seniors Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar return this season. Kearse, a second team all-conference player in 2010, has been the Huskies leading receiver the last two years. He caught that 45 yard touchdown pass at the start of the third quarter in Seattle. If he improves on his consistency, he could be an elite receiver. Look for James Johnson to bounce back from an ankle injury that limited him as a sophomore last season. He was the leading receiver in the spring game, and was on the Pac-10's all-freshman team in 2009.
OL: Three starters need to be replaced, but the Huskies will have four offensive linemen with starting experience this fall. They may try sophomore Erik Kohler at tackle, but his best position may be guard. If senior tackle Senio Kelemete is healthy, he'll anchor the line on the left side. Ben Riva will have to learn to play right tackle under fire this fall, and might be the weak link.
DL: Remember how the Husky defensive line manhandled the Nebraska offensive line in the Holiday Bowl, especially in the second half? Well, everybody's back this fall. Tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who missed the Holiday Bowl with a broken ankle, might also be back as well. This will be a good test case to evaluate the Huskers changes on offense.
LB: Only middle linebacker Cort Dennison is back, leaving holes on either side. Dennison missed the regular season game in Seattle last fall, but still managed to be the Huskies leading tackler last season. Sophomore Garret Gilliland is the heir apparent at the WIL linebacker, but the SAM spot is still unknown. Nobody's stepped up at this point to seize that spot. This will be the Huskies weakest link this season.
Secondary: Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson both return to start, as does junior Nate Fellner at free safety. Expectations are high that sophomore Sean Parker will have a huge year after missing the final four games of last season.
This is a better, more experienced team than Nebraska faced last season. The good news is that this game is in Lincoln, though really, it comes down to whether or not Nebraska's new offense can eliminate the many mistakes that sabotaged the team in the Holiday Bowl. Or we'll find out if Cort Dennison was really the reason why Nebraska won so convincingly in Seattle.