SAN DIEGO — Second time around, the master showed the student.
Senior quarterback Jake Locker and Washington stunned Nebraska 19-7 Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl, a rematch of the Huskers’ five-touchdown romp 14 weeks ago — and a sobering illustration of just how far NU and its offense have slipped this year.
“We didn’t play well front to back,” coach Bo Pelini said. “It was a ridiculous performance.”
Credit the Washington defense, too, which held NU to a season-low 91 yards rushing after it gouged the Huskies for 383 on the ground on Sept. 18 in Seattle.
But much of this was self-inflicted before a split crowd of 57,921 on a chilly night at Qualcomm Stadium.
A year ago on this field, Nebraska punished Arizona to raise the profile of its program, then capitalized on momentum that led to a top-five national ranking in October. Where are the Huskers now, as the offseason march to the Big Ten begins under much different circumstances than the past two years for Pelini’s team?
“This won’t affect the offseason one bit,” Pelini said, “It’ll be a new team next year, new challenges.”
Notably, the Huskers look lost at quarterback at the close of this 10-4 season. Redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, who tormented Washington as he accounted for four touchdowns in the 56-21 September win, struggled in a big way here.
Playing at close to full speed for the first time in nearly two months, Martinez looked no better than in his spotty efforts against Kansas and Oklahoma.
Washington sacked him four times and limited Martinez to 53 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception. He limped off late in the third quarter and did not return after UW linebacker Mason Foster pounded him to the turf for a 9-yard loss on third and 12. Cody Green could not rally the Huskers in relief.
It was an all too familiar sight for Nebraska, dating to Martinez’s initial ankle injury suffered Oct. 30 against Missouri.
“When he got hurt, it hurt his confidence, ” Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “It’s time. He needs to get back in the saddle and he’s got to persevere through this. It’s something a young quarterback, if he’s going to become a great quarterback, has to learn to do.”
The future at Nebraska for Watson, after a rough two months to coincide with Martinez’s problems, looks uncertain. Asked if he expected to remain on staff at Nebraska, Watson said he did not know.
“We’ll have to see,” he said.
His offense gained 189 yards, another season low. That’s 344 fewer than in the first meeting.
Meanwhile, Washington won its fourth straight game, and the Huskies (7-6) won their first bowl game in 10 years. They had not appeared in the postseason since 2002. UW led 10-7 at halftime, despite Locker’s 0-for-7 passing effort after a 4-for-20 showing in the first meeting. But the Huskies opened the third quarter in decisive fashion. Locker’s first completion, on third and 7 from the 50, covered 25 yards to D’Andre Goodwin over NU nickel back Eric Hagg.
Locker ran it in from 25 yards on the next play, crashing through Prince Amukamara and Austin Cassidy en route to the end zone.
Just like that, you could see his confidence rise — as things went the other way for Martinez.
“It was a mindset,” said Locker, a top NFL-draft prospect whose stock took a hit after the first game with Nebraska.
He finished just 5 of 16 for 51 yards, but Washington rushed for 268 yards, including 83 by Locker. Tailback Chris Polk gained 177 — the 12th highest total ever against Nebraska and most in a bowl game — on 34 carries.
“They came out with a good game plan to run the ball down our throat,” Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said. “They executed on a lot of plays, and they played awesome.”
The game began on Thursday about as poorly for the Huskers as it started well in the first meeting, when NU intercepted Locker on the fourth play and scored two touchdowns in its first four offensive plays.
In the rematch, the Huskers shifted early between Martinez and Wildcat Rex Burkhead at QB. The opening drive ended when Washington linebacker Victor Aiyewa smashed Burkhead, forcing a fumble as the sophomore I-back looked to throw on a second-down play near midfield.
“That hurt us,” Pelini said. “I thought it was a big point in the game.”
Alameda Ta’amu, a 330-pound defensive tackle, advanced the fumble to the 21-yard line, and freshman tailback Jesse Callier immediately hit Locker on a throwback pass for 17 yards to set up Polk’s 3-yard plunge.
Then in case the Huskers hadn’t provided enough momentum for Washington, the next two Nebraska drives ended in three-and-out fashion on ill-advised, third-down shovel passes by Martinez.
He crossed the line of scrimmage on the first throw, which fell incomplete. UW defensive end Hau’oli Jamora deflected the next such Martinez toss — straight back to the quarterback, who gained 1 yard on his first career reception.
Washington’s Erik Folk connected on a 39-yard field goal to make it 10-0 before Martinez and the Huskers finally showed some offensive life.
Mike McNeill grabbed a 13-yard Martinez pass for a conversion across midfield. And after two straight delay-of-game penalties on third down appeared to signal disaster, Martinez broke free for 20 yards on third and 13. UW safety Nate Fellner added 15 yards on a late hit of Martinez after his longest run of the night.
The play-making QB then threaded a third-and-8 throw between a pair of Washington defenders to Kyler Reed for a 15-yard TD with 10:24 to play in the opening half. And despite all the ugliness, Nebraska appeared on track.
Think again. The Blackshirts did their part, stopping UW on a fourth-and-1 run by Polk after Locker left temporarily following a shot to the head by NU safety Austin Cassidy.
But Fellner intercepted Martinez on a up-for-grabs throw to Niles Paul. The next Nebraska possession ended as Jamora sacked Martinez for a 13-yard loss.
Washington drove to the NU 31 in the final seconds of the half, but Folk’s 48-yard field goal attempt drifted wide left.
|Yards per carry||5.7||2.2|
Nebraska is 5-4 all-time against Washington.
|Western Kentucky||Sept. 4|
|South Dakota State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 20|
Nebraska has played 6 games on Dec. 30. See them all »
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