Game Preview: Nebraska vs Washington

Check out our game preview as the Huskers head on the road to take on their toughest test of the year, quarterback Jake Locker and his Washington Huskies.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Washington Huskies

--by Vince Campisi

September 18th, 2010
12:30 PM PDT
Husky Stadium
Seattle, WA
Television Coverage: ABC Regional

#8 NEBRASKA (2 - 0) (0 - 0)
WASHINGTON (1 - 1) (0 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Washington

Latest Line
Opening: Nebraska by 4.
Current: Nebraska by 3.


09/04/10 - vs. Western Kentucky - W 49-10
09/11/10 - vs. Idaho - W 38-17
09/18/10 - at. Washington
09/25/10 - vs. South Dakota State
10/07/10 - at. Kansas State
10/16/10 - vs. Texas
10/23/10 - at. Oklahoma State
10/30/10 - vs. Missouri
11/06/10 - at. Iowa State
11/13/10 - vs. Kansas
11/20/10 - at. Texas A&M
11/26/10 - vs. Colorado


09/04/10 - at. Brigham Young - L 17-23
09/11/10 - vs. Syracuse - W 41-20
09/18/10 - vs. Nebraska
10/02/10 - at. USC
10/09/10 - vs. Arizona State
10/16/10 - vs. Oregon State
10/23/10 - at. Arizona
10/30/10 - vs. Stanford
11/06/10 - at. Oregon
11/18/10 - vs. UCLA
11/27/10 - at. California
12/04/10 - at. Washington State

Historically Speaking

Saturday marks the eighth meeting between Nebraska and Washington.  The series currently stands at 3-3-1, with Nebraska on a two game winning streak.  The last four games in the series had both Nebraska and Washington ranked in the top 12, nationally.  This match-up will be the first since 1967 that doesn't see both teams ranked, with only Nebraska in the current top 25 polls.  The last meeting between these two teams took place in Lincoln, back in 1998.  The #2 Huskers started early, on a Bobby Newcombe touchdown run just 4:23 into the first quarter and never let up, throttling the #9 Huskies 55-7.  The last game played in Seattle was in 1997, and saw the #7 Huskers jump out to a surprising 21-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter, ultimately picking up a 27-14 win over the #2 Huskies.  As far as conference battles go, Washington last played a Big XII conference team in 2008, against Oklahoma.  The Sooners were unstoppable on the ground and through the air, putting the Huskies down 55-14.  Nebraska, meanwhile, last played a Pac-10 conference foe in the 2009 Holiday Bowl.  The Wildcats were no match for the Huskers, as Nebraska easily shut down Arizona 33-0.

Player Breakdowns


Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread offense is an offense that has been full of big plays, but few long, sustained scoring drives.  Considering the low tier competition they've faced in the first two weeks, that has to be more than a slight concern.  Penalties and turnovers have been a big problem, and a redshirt freshman led offense will experience more bumps down the road against stiffer competition.  Nebraska currently ranks 12th nationally in total offense (503.50 ypg), 85th in passing (179.00 ypg), 42nd in pass efficiency (142.76 rating), 3rd in rushing (324.50 ypg), 17th in scoring offense (43.50 ppg), 33rd in interceptions thrown (1), 120th in fumbles lost (5), and 104th in giveaways (6).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (21 for 32, 242 yds, 1 INT) starts for the Huskers, although the Nebraska coaches claim it is still an ongoing competition.  He hasn't thrown much, and has yet to throw a touchdown pass.  Last week he had a few far-off passes, including missing a wide open Mike McNeill that could have been a long touchdown pass.  He's the fastest of the QB's and is an explosive playmaker on the ground, rushing the ball 21 times for 284 yards and 5 touchdowns (lost 22 yards sacks) this season.  He needs to take better care of the ball, however, as he fumbled 4 times last week, losing 1.  While he has a strong arm, he tends to check down to shorter routes instead of throwing deep.  His decision making needs to get better, but he just needs more game snaps to learn.  With the Nebraska offense becoming more run oriented, Martinez very well could be a perfect fit, but until he faces a real defense, it will be hard to know for sure.  He appeared to injure his wrist last week, but it shouldn't be much of an issue going into Saturday's game.  So. Cody Green (6 for 7, 71 yds, 1 TD) is the second option, and has looked calm and confident as the field general when on the field, running and throwing effectively on nearly every down.  He has looked good enough to believe that the QB competition is indeed ongoing.  He has carried the ball 5 times for 18 yards this season.  Sr. Zac Lee (3 for 4, 45 yds), last year's starter, is now the third QB in the depth chart.  He has a strong arm, and when he has good protection, can be successful.  Lee has decent speed and has rushed for 21 yards on 3 attempts this season.  Lee looked great against Nebraska's Sun Belt opposition early last year, but his game fell off the map as soon as they started facing teams from BCS conferences.  It will be interesting to see if Nebraska's QB's suffer a similar fate this season.  

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented.  They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (14 carries, 136 yds, 2 TDs).  Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability.  He can beat defenders by running around, by, and over them.  He has transformed himself into a complete back in his time at Nebraska.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (14 carries, 134 yds, 1 TD), an impressive young back that does a very nice job running between the tackles.  He hits the hole quickly and breaks tackles well.  He also has the speed to pick up chunks of yards running to the outside.  As his vision continues to improve, he'll only get more dangerous to defend.  The duo of Helu Jr. and Burkhead is one of the best in the Big XII.  So. Dontrayevous Robinson (6 carries, 8 yds) is the third option and has shown a lot of potential in his limited carries, running with a good amount of power and decent quickness.  He has looked sluggish this season, though, and had a fumble in the fourth quarter on the Idaho 2, attempting to score.  Jr. Austin Jones (5 carries, 31 yds, 1 TD), So. Lester Ward (1 carry, 2 yds), and So. Collins Okafor (1 carry, 2 yds) are backs that will likely only see action in blow outs or due to injury.  In the passing game, Helu Jr. and Burkhead (5 catches, 88 yds) should be big contributors this season.  At fullback, Jr. Tyler Legate is the top guy but hasn't really seen much time on the field.  He's a good blocker, but hasn't had many opportunities to show what he can do with the ball in his hands.  Jr. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 11 yds) is the top back-up.  A former TE, his hands can be an asset for Nebraska at the FB position.

WR/TE: Through two games, Nebraska's receivers have continued their struggles with consistency and route running from a year ago.  The crew has been plagued with dropped passes as well as lazily run routes.  There is good potential in the group and they should show improvement this season, but they need to reach it on the field and consistently.  Starting at "Z" is Sr. Niles Paul (9 catches, 123 yds, 1 TD).  He has a great combination of size, speed, and quickness  He is very inconsistent, though, as it seems for every great catch he makes, he'll drop just as many easy ones.  He also has fumbling problems and concentration issues.  Starting at "X" is Jr. Brandon Kinnie (9 catches, 76 yds).  Kinnie has great measurables (6'3, 220 lbs) and just might be Nebraska's best receiver.  He definitely has the ability to be a big time playmaker for the Nebraska offense.  He is also a physical receiver, throwing some big blocks to open big runs downfield.  Sr. Mike McNeill (2 catches, 17 yds) is the top receiver in the slot this year after switching from tight end.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone.  He was targeted more last week, after not catching a pass in the opener.  Reserves at receiver include Jr. Curenski Gilleylen, TFr. Quincy Enunwa (1 catch, 10 yds), So. Khiry Cooper, Sr. Will Henry (1 catch, 24 yds), and So. Tim Marlowe.  Gilleylen is a speedster that can be a dangerous deep threat if he stops dropping so many passes.  Enunwa shined in Fall camp and saw his first catch in the second half of the season opener.  Cooper has plenty of upside, but needs to be more physical and work to get open.  Henry is a big body (6'5") but has yet to make an impact in his career.  Nebraska's top TE's are So. Ben Cotton (1 catch, 5 yds) and So. Kyler Reed (1 catch, 4 yds).  A possible season ending back injury to Sr. Dreu Young could force McNeill back to tight end if Cotton and Reed can't get the job done.  Cotton committed a pair of costly penalties last week that helped to stall promising drives.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line has been decent in the first two games.  While the team ranks third nationally on the ground, it hasn't been because of a great, consistent pancaking line.  The splits on the line this season are a bit wider than in years past, as Nebraska has transformed into more of a spread team.  This has helped open some running lanes, but it hasn't been proven against quality defensive front sevens.  Starting at left tackle could be either RFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) or Jr. Jermarcus Hardrick (6'7", 320 lbs).  Both have looked pretty good after two games, with Sirles starting both games and Hardrick coming off the bench.  Sirles has picked up the offense quickly, and should turn into a solid lineman, while Hardrick is a JUCO transfer that has the potential to be a force.  Sirles did, however, give up a sack that resulted in a lost fumble in the red zone.  Jr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 315 lbs) and Sr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 310 lbs) are expected to split time at right tackle.  Marcel has the potential to be a rock on the right side, however, he has shown a difficulty against athletic defensive ends.  He is currently struggling with injury, but should see limited action this week.  D.J. doesn't have great torque in his hips and also will get beat often by athletic linemen.  Starting at left guard is Sr. Keith Williams (6'5", 310 lbs), while Sr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 305 lbs) starts at right guard.  Williams is a solid blocker that has had trouble staying healthy during his career.  He does very well as the pulling guard, plowing through his man and opening holes.  Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak, which often gets the better of him, drawing flags.  So. Brandon Thompson (6'6", 290 lbs) and RFr. Brent Qvale (6'7", 320 lbs), and TFr. Andrew Rodriguez (6'6", 325 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard.  Jr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Cole Pensick (6'2", 270 lbs) backing him up.  Caputo isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and use of leverage.

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense looked much improved last week over their season opener.  They were active in the offensive backfield all day long, and also put points on the board with 2 interception returns for TD.  They earned 7 sacks and picked off A late touchdown against second and third string defenders allowed Idaho to get 17 points.  While they showed marked improvement, they will now have to show it against better offensive talent.  The Huskers are currently ranked 35th nationally in total defense (289.00 ypg), 43rd in pass defense (169.50 ypg), 19th in pass efficiency defense (91.93 rating), 53rd in rush defense (119.50 ypg), 24th in scoring defense (13.50 ppg), 2nd in interceptions (6), 30th in fumbles recovered (2), and 4th in total takeaways (8).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line play was much improved against Idaho over their performance in the opener.  The group is talented, but will just need to show more consistency snap to snap if they want to get close to the numbers from a year ago.  The depth is questionable at this point, as there is a noticeable drop-off when the reserves are in the game.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (5 tackles, 1 QBH) on the left.  Allen is a great athlete that does well against the run and also as a pass rusher.  He should have a solid year getting after the QB.  Meredith has a good first step and enough strength to power by opposing tackles.  So. Josh Williams (5 tackles, 1 FF) and RFr. Jason Ankrah are the top reserves at defensive end.  Both were outstanding high school players, and each possesses excellent athleticism and the ability to become great pass rushers.  Williams appears to be a step ahead of Ankrah at this point.  Jr. Jared Crick (12 tackles, 2.5 tackles, 2 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Thaddeus Randle (3 tackles, 1 QBH) providing back-up.  Crick turned into a big time defensive tackle last season and should compete for All-American honors this season.  He's big, strong, and has good speed to get into the backfield and cause problems for opposing offenses.  Randle has shown a great motor in camp, and has a good first step.  Starting at nose tackle is So. Baker Steinkuhler (6 tackles, 2.5 sacks) or Jr. Terrence Moore (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 FR).  It was a very close race throughout camp and both will see the field a lot.  Steinkuhler has had trouble getting off his blocks, but was more successful against Idaho than in the season opener.

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is much thinner than it should be, with pre-season injuries to expected starters Sean Fisher and Will Compton.  Fisher is out for the year, while Compton should be back sometime mid-season.  With those losses, it thrust a couple of guys into starting roles that may not have been 100% ready.  After two games, they are still looking for the right duo, which is the pair that can get everyone on the same page on defense each play.  The group looked better last week than in the opener, but will need to be more consistent and more fundamentally sound for the group to not be considered a weakness.  Starting at middle linebacker could be either So. Eric Martin (6 tackles) or So. Alonzo Whaley (6 tackles).  Martin is a physical linebacker that hits like a freight train, but is still very much learning the position after playing mostly special teams up to this point.  Whaley started the opener but struggled with communication and worked as Martin's back-up last week.  Jr. Lavonte David (20 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (3 tackles) and Sr. Thomas Grove (1 tackle) proving back-up.  David is a JUCO transfer that didn't arrive in Lincoln until the Summer, yet has quickly shown himself to be a player.  He leads the team in tackles after two games, and is going to be a big time playmaker for the defense as he continues to learn the system.  Nebraska is calling their hybrid strongside linebacker/defensive back the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (4 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with Jr. Austin Cassidy (3 tackles) backing him up.  Hagg is a great athlete and gets into the backfield quickly on the blitz and making tackles in the open field.  He has been fairly weak in coverage over the course of his career, however, this move to a hybrid LB position could be a perfect fit for him.   

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield is one of the best in the nation on the edges.  The safety sports are somewhat of a concern, but their play was solid last week against Idaho, which is a positive going forward.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (10 tackles, 3 PBU) starts at LCB, with TFr. Ciante Evans (2 tackles) as the top reserve.  Amukamara is a great athlete and an outstanding cover corner.  He is one of the nation's best corners, making it tough on opposing receivers and forcing opposing offenses to game plan around him.  Evans has quickly worked his way onto the field, but didn't look great last week, getting beat on a late fourth quarter Idaho touchdown.  Jr. Alfonzo Dennard (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) is the starting RCB and has shown to be a star in the making.  He's a physical corner that makes plays on the football and is a very solid tackler.  Behind Dennard are So. Antonio Bell and RFr. Dijon Washington.  Starting at free safety is Sr. Rickey Thenarse (10 tackles, 1 INT), with So. P.J. Smith (9 tackles, 2 INTs) battling him for that starting spot.  Thenarse missed most of last season with a knee injury and brings back his hardnosed, big hitting ability back for his senior year.  He isn't great in coverage, but appears to be improving slightly.  He had an interception returned for touchdown last week against Idaho.  Smith played sparingly last season and looked like a redshirt-Freshman, raw.  Through two games this year, he leads the team with two interceptions.  At strong safety is Sr. Dejon Gomes (16 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), with Sr. Anthony West (3 tackles, 1 INT) being his top back-up.  Gomes is solid in coverage, has great ball-hawking ability, but will need to be better at taking down physical running backs.  Gomes, like Thenarse, had an interception returned for touchdown last week against Idaho.  Gomes works as Nebraska's top dime back and will shift there when the play calls for it.  West is a former starter at corner, but fell down the depth chart due to lackluster play.  He has only been average in his career, and has made a switch to safety for his senior season.

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units should be some of the best in the nation this season.  They have some of the best kickers in the nation, and the return men have the ability to break free on any given return.  In their season opener, the kickoff coverage unit was quite poor, giving up uncharacteristically large returns.  Against Idaho last week, they did seem to do a better job.  The Huskers are currently ranked 88th in net punting (34 yd avg), 18th in kickoff returns (27.50 yd avg), 9th in punt returns (19.33 yd avg), 64th in kickoff coverage (20.70 yd avg), and 42nd in punt coverage (5.00 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 1 for 1, kicking in a 24 yarder last week against Idaho.  He has made 36 of his last 37 kicks from under 50 yards.  Sr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and has been the best kickoff specialist in the nation throughout his first 3 seasons.  Kunalic has pushed 5 of 15 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.4 yard average, kicking between the goal line and 1 yard line.

P: Sr. Alex Henery is averaging 36.0 yards on his 5 punts with a long of 52 this season.  3 of his 5 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He added punting duties to his repertoire last season, and has been a key weapon for the Huskers.  When directional punting or attempting to get the ball downed inside the 10, he is exceptional.

KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit has been made up of So. Tim Marlowe (3 kick returns, 32 yd avg, 42 yd long) and Jr. Brandon Kinnie (1 kick return, 14 yd avg, 14 yd long).  Sr. Niles Paul has been working with the top kick return unit this week, however, and should provide a better big play threat this week.  At punt returner is Sr. Niles Paul (3 punt returns, 19.3 yd avg, 31 yd long).  These units can be very good, but can also be very inconsistent.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams were better last week than in the opener.  Their problems in the opener included some missed tackles and taking poor angles to the opposing kickoff return men which resulted in longer than necessary returns.  That will be something to keep an eye on going forward.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.7 yards on 10 kickoff returns (29 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 5 yards on 2 punt returns (8 yd long).  


Washington Offense

Washington's offense has been fair through two games, and found some consistency rushing the football against Syracuse last week.  There were also fewer dropped balls in week two versus the season opener, another good sign.  Still, they started slowly out of the gate and against better teams than Syracuse, they won't be able to easily light up the scoreboard in the second half.  The Huskies are currently ranked 42nd nationally in total offense (430.50 ypg), 25th in passing (279.00 ypg), 38th in passing efficiency (145.71 rating), 72nd in rushing (151.50 ypg), 61st in scoring offense (29 ppg), 1st in interceptions thrown (0), 19th in fumbles lost (1), and 7th in giveaways (1).  

QB: Sr. Jake Locker (42 of 70, 555 yds, 5 TDs, 0 INT) passed up an opportunity to possibly be the first overall selection in this past April's NFL draft to come back to Washington for his senior season.  Locker ranked 55th in pass efficiency in 2009, throwing for nearly 2,800 yards (21 TDs/11 INTs) and rushing for another 388.  He is a Heisman trophy hopeful, but will need to have some big performances against quality defenses to actually contend, this week being a great opportunity.  Locker has started this year off pretty well, not giving away any interceptions, but needs to work on his consistency.  He's had difficulties under pressure and will rush into bad throws.  He also has issues with accuracy, often missing guys high.  He has also had problems with his field vision, not seeing wide open receivers.  Despite being a multi-year starter, he has also shown problems with recognizing blitzes from the defense.  Still, when he is on his game, he can pick apart an opposing defense.  He's a good athlete, scrambles well and can do a lot of damage with his feet.  He's a tough runner that will take some big collisions and bounce right back up.  The coaches have tried to keep him in the pocket more this year, which has helped keep him healthy.  Locker has rushed for 41 yards 16 carries (lost 15 yards on sacks) this season.  As the season goes along, it is likely Locker will use his legs to help move the offense downfield.  Behind Locker are RFr. Keith Price (1 of 1, 3 yds) and TFr. Nick Montana.  Price is a very fast dual-threat QB, but won't see much action this year, outside of and mop-up duty or if Locker gets injured.

RB: The Huskies' running game is led by So. Chris Polk (36 carries, 209 yds, 1 TD), one of the top backs in the Pac-10 conference.  He's coming off a fantastic 1,113 yard freshman campaign.  Polk has quick burst through the hole, and keeps his legs churning to pick up extra yards after contact.  He has good vision and cutting ability, really turning on the jets when he gets to the outside.  Last week he was occasionally hesitant to hit the hole, and had a fourth quarter fumble that Syracuse was able to turn into 7 points.  Backs in the reserve rotation include Jr. Johri Fogerson (1 carry, 0 yds), TFr. Jesse Callier (10 carries, 86 yds), So. Demitrius Bronson, and TFr. Taz Stevenson.  Callier is a quick footed back, and has great acceleration once he gets to the edge.  Fogerson has good wheels and is tough to catch in the open field.  Fogerson has been struggling with a hip flexor and Stevenson, a safety, has been working with the backs.  The backs are used occasionally in the passing game, with Polk (2 catches, 9 yds) and Callier (2 catches, 15 yds) catching a couple of passes each this season.   Polk has very good hands out of the backfield and can be a dangerous weapon in the passing game.  At fullback is Sr. Austin Sylvester (2 catches, 15 yds), with Sr. Dorson Boyce backing him up.  Sylvester is a solid blocker that has great hands.  Last week against Syracuse, he made an outstanding one-handed grab.

WR/TE: The Huskies' receiving corps is a solid group that offers two of the better receivers in the Pac-10.  They were under fire for a lot of dropped balls in the season opener, but did a much better job last week against Syracuse.  Starting at the receiver spots are Jr. Jermaine Kearse (14 catches, 287 yds, 4 TDs), Jr. Devin Aguilar (12 catches, 138 yds, 1 TD), and Sr. D'Andre Goodwin (2 catches, 11 yds).  Kearse is the go-to guy in the passing game, and it's easy to see why.  He's fast, strong, good sized (6'2"), and tough to bring down in the open field.  He typically shows good hands and the ability to blow by opposing defenders.  Last week against Syracuse, he slipped by a few lazy tackles on the way to a 57 yard touchdown, most of which gained after the catch.  Aguilar also typically has good hands and will beat most in a foot race.  He's more of a possession receiver, though, whereas Kearse is the better home run threat.  Goodwin can be a solid target, but hasn't been utilized much yet this year.  Reserves in the rotation at receiver include Jr. Cody Bruns (3 catches, 25 yds), Jr. Jordan Polk (1 catch, 25 yds), So. James Johnson (1 catch, 3 yds), and TFr. Kevin Smith.  Bruns has been making some noise in practice and should see an increased role as the season goes forward.  At tight end is Jr. Chris Izbicki (1 catch, 15 yds), with RFr. Marlion Barnett (2 catches, 15 yds), and TFr. Michael Hartvigson backing him up.  This is a good group of tight ends, and needs to see the ball more.  Izbicki is a tough blocker, but also has good hands and is hard to tackle, often bowling over defenders.  Barnett brings a bit more speed to the position, but isn't quite as good of a blocker as Izbicki right now.  

OL: Washington's offensive line has been fair in their two games this season, but not where they want to be, so there are expected to be some shake-ups to the line-up this week.  The line, as a whole, has had problems getting pushed around by opposing defensive front fours.  The following line-up is based on mid-week practices.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Senio Kelemete (6'4", 289 lbs) on the left and Sr. Cody Habben (6'6", 290 lbs) on the right.  Kelemete is a strong tackle, but doesn't have much swivel in his hips and will get beaten by decent ends.  Habben is in his third year as a starter, and is a fair blocker, better in pass protection than bulling ahead as a run blocker.  The top reserves at tackle are So. Daniel Kanczugowski (6'4", 327 lbs) and Jr. Skyler Fancher (6'5", 303 lbs).  Fancher is a skilled tackle that has had a history of injury problems.  Starting at guard is TFr. Erik Kohler (6'5", 306 lbs) on the left and Sr. Ryan Tolar (6'5", 293 lbs) on the right.  Kohler has been shuffled into a starting role this week after spending the past two games as a reserve tackle.  He was a big high school recruit and will hope to improve the run blocking on the line.  It's very rare to see a true freshman offensive lineman break into a starting role at a major program.  Tolar is a former center that is the team's best rush blocker.  He's very strong and has opened some nice holes in his career.  Top back-ups at guard include Sr. Gregory Christine (6'2", 288 lbs) and TFr. Colin Porter (6'4", 307 lbs).  Christine had been starting at left guard up until this week in practice, and it is likely because of how much he got pushed around by both BYU and Syracuse's defensive fronts.  Starting at center is So. Drew Schaefer (6'4", 281 lbs), with So. Mykenna Ikehara (6'2", 265 lbs) backing him up.  Schaefer is an athletic center that should eventually grow into a quality center for the Huskies.  

Washington Defense

Washington's defense has looked mediocre over the first two weeks of the season.  The Huskies haven't gotten much push from the front four, and have had some issues with missed tackles.  The defensive backs have also had their share of blown coverages.  The Huskies are currently ranked 78th nationally in total defense (372.00 ypg), 88th in pass defense (243.00 ypg), 64th in pass efficiency defense (119.08 rating), 62nd in rush defense (129.00 ypg), 60th in scoring defense (21.50 ppg), 64th in interceptions forced (1), 65th in fumbles recovered (1), and 85th in total takeaways (2).  

DL: The Huskies' defensive line has had some problems getting a pass rush this season, and have often times been pushed around by opposing offensive lines.  This group struggled to shut down BYU's rushing attack, with their wide splits.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Everrette Thompson (1 tackle) at left end and So. Talia Crichton (5 tackles) at right end.  Thompson is a big talent, but hasn't yet lived up to expectations.  Crichton is a pure speed rusher and will struggle against big, athletic offensive linemen.  Top reserves at end include Sr. De'Shon Matthews (1 tackle), TFr. Hau'oli Jamora, and Jr. Kalani Aldrich.  This group hasn't made much of an impact when inserted into the line-up this season.  Matthews could be a quality end, but doesn't see the field much.  Starting at the defensive tackle spots are Jr. Alameda Ta'amu (2 tackles) and Sr. Cameron Elisara (3 tackles) backing him up.  Although experienced, the middle of the line has not been too impressive.  Ta'amu is a big (330 lbs) tackle that also has good speed and footwork, while Elisara is a lighter (269 lbs), quicker tackle.  Top reserves at tackle include So. Semisi Tokolahi (2 tackles, 1 FF), RFr. Chris Robinson, and TFr. Sione Potoa'e (1 tackle, 1 sack).  Tokolahi looks like a promising space eater, while Robinson has shown problems with tackling and over pursuit.  Potoa'e picked up his first career tackle, a sack, against Syracuse last week on the final drive of the game.   

LB: The Huskies' linebacking corps has been the best unit on the defense through two games this season, despite having new starters at two of the spots.  There have been struggles in pass coverage, however.  Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Cort Dennison (15 tackles), with TFr. Garret Gilliland (3 tackles) and RFr. Tim Tucker (1 tackle) backing him up.  Dennison has been picking up tackles all over the field, has been solid against the run, and has good speed to make plays in the backfield.  While he is normally a solid tackler, he did miss a big one on a Syracuse touchdown run last week.  He's been described as being "under the weather" this week at practice, and if he can't go on Saturday, Gilliland will be the one to get the start.  At weakside linebacker is Sr. Mason Foster (24 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PBU), while So. Jordan Wallace (1 tackle) and TFr. Princeton Fuimaono back him up.  Foster is the star of the linebackers, wraps-up well, and is just a good all-around athlete.  He's a hard hitter that forces many fumbles, but isn't immune from a missing a tackle or two.  Sr. Victor Aiyewa (18 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FF) starts at strongside linebacker, with Sr. Matt Houston (1 tackle) and TFr. Cooper Pelluer backing him up.  Aiyewa is a converted safety that can absolutely lay the wood.  He's very athletic, and his speed is useful on blitzes, where he has been very successful at disrupting the QB.  He also missed a tackle last week on the same rush Dennison did, which went for a Syracuse touchdown.

DB: The Huskies' defensive backfield has a good group of athletes in the unit, but they have had some problems in coverage this season, especially covering short routes from the slot.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Quinton Richardson (6 tackles, 1 PBU) at left corner and So. Desmond Trufant (9 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 PBU) at right corner.  Richardson has pretty good speed, and is a sure tackler, but has left some opposing receivers wide open this season.  Trufant is has some of the most potential in the secondary, but isn't quite there yet and does struggle in coverage.  He's a good tackler, but has shown a susceptibility to being burned.  Players in the reserve rotation include Sr. Vonzell McDowell Jr. (1 tackle), So. Adam Long (2 tackles), and TFr. Gregory Ducre (2 tackles, 1 INT).  McDowell is the smallest of the defensive backs at just 5'9", and lacks the hops to keep up with taller receivers.  Starting at strong safety is Sr. Nate Williams (19 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 QBH), with TFr. Sean Parker backing him up.  Williams is a solid safety that is an asset in rush support.  Last week against Syracuse he showed great timing, swiping the ball away from the receiver's hands as he was stretched out for an incompletion.  So. Nate Fellner (14 tackle, 2 FF, 2 PBU) starts at free safety, with RFr. Will Shamburger (4 tackles) serving as the top back-up.  Fellner is still young and has struggled this season at times in both rush support and in pass coverage.  Against BYU in back-to-back plays, he missed a tackle on the opposing QB, and the following play have up a touchdown pass in the endzone.  

Washington Special Teams

Washington's special teams units have not been very good this season.  In each of their first two games, costly mistakes were made.  Last week against Syracuse, however, a big forced and recovered fumble in the second quarter helped swing the momentum into Washington's favor.  They scored a go-ahead touchdown just plays later and never looked back.  The Huskies currently rank 99th in net punting (32.58 yd avg), 117th in kickoff returns (13.14 yd avg), 107th in punt returns (0.00 yd avg), 91st in kickoff coverage (23.25 yd avg), and 90th in punt coverage (13.67 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Erik Folk has made all 3 of his 3 field goal attempts with a long of 54 this season.  He has shown an accurate leg over this and last season, but the 54 yarder was a nice surprise.  Folk is also the kickoff specialist, and has not pushed any of his 12 kickoffs for a touchback, with a 64.6 yard average, kicking between the 5 and 6 yard line.  His kickoff average has improved by about 5 yards over last season.

P: Jr. Kiel Rasp has a decent leg and averaged 40.3 yards on his 6 punts with a long of 53 last week.  1 of his 6 punts was downed inside the opponents' 20.  Rasp was thrust into the starting line-up after Sr. Will Mahan (6 punts, 45.2 yd avg, 64 yd long) tore knee ligaments during a practice a week ago.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Huskies consists of TFr. Sean Parker (1 kick return, 15 yd avg, 15 yd long) and TFr. Kevin Smith (3 kick returns, 19 yd avg, 30 yd long).  Jr. Devin Aguilar (1 punt return, 0 yd avg, 0 yd long) works as the top punt return man.  Jr. Johri Fogerson is also a possibility at punt returner.  The lack of a quality return game has been a bit concerning through two games.

Coverage: The Huskies' kick and punt coverage units have not been good this season, taking bad angles and missing tackles.  Through two games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 23.2 yards on 12 kickoff return attempts with a long of 47.  Sr. Nate Fellner forced a big fumble on a kickoff return with the Huskies down 6-10, which helped change the momentum of the game (Washington scored a go-ahead TD on ensuing drive).  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 13.7 yards on 6 punt return attempts with a long of 31.    

Position Advantages
QBs:  Washington ++
RBs: Nebraska +
WR/TE's: Washington +
OL: Nebraska ++
DL: Nebraska +++
LB: Washington +
DB: Nebraska +++
Special Teams: Nebraska +++
Coaching: Nebraska ++
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large

Injury Report

DT - Chase Rome - Elbow - Questionable
LB - Will Compton - Foot - Out Indefinitely
TE - Dreu Young - Back - Out Indefinitely
LB - Sean Fisher - Leg - Out for Season
RT - Mike Smith - Leg - Out for Season
CB - Anthony Blue - Knee - Out for Season

DT - Cameron Elisara - Quadriceps - Probable
LB - Cort Dennison - Illness - Probable
S - Justin Glenn - Hip - Questionable
RB - Johri Fogerson - Hip - Doubtful
WR - James Johnson - Ankle - Doubtful
P - Will Mahan - Knee - Out for Season

Keys to the Game

1.) Take Away the Running Game - Washington RB Chris Polk will be a crucial piece to stop if Nebraska is going to come away with a victory on Saturday.  Nebraska's defense has shown to be a little soft against a power running game, and that must be shored up, because Polk and Locker have the ability to run all over opposing defenses.  Slowing down the run will force QB Jake Locker to throw the ball more against the excellent Nebraska secondary.
2.) Cut Down on the Turnovers - Taking care of the football needs to be priority number one for Nebraska.  The 8 fumbles against Idaho (lost 3) were unacceptable and must be reduced immediately.  Nebraska's 5 lost fumbles on the season is the worst in the country - and they haven't exactly been playing quality defenses, either.  
3.) Cut Down on Mental Errors - Playing to the whistle is great, playing beyond it is not.  Nebraska is drawing far too many penalties (99 ypg, 115th nationally), especially on the offensive side of the ball.  This has killed promising drives and extended some for their opponents.

1.) Contain Taylor Martinez - Nebraska's offense has been predicated on big plays, many of them from QB Martinez's legs.  Stack the box and keep him in the pocket.  Force him to beat you with his arm, something he hasn't shown the ability to do yet.
2.) Attack the Middle - Nebraska's defensive weakness is mainly their inexperience at the linebacker spots.  Run the ball between the tackles force their inexperienced linebackers to make plays.  Also exploit the middle in the passing game with short, underneath routes between the linebackers and safeties.  
3.) Limit Special Teams Miscues - One of the glaring problems for the Huskies in the first two games were less than spectacular special teams play.  If that isn't cleaned up this week, it could spell disaster against Nebraska, which owns one of the best special teams units in the nation.

Final Outlook

This will be an intriguing match-up on Saturday for many reasons; Nebraska going on the road for the first time this season with a redshirt freshman at QB, Jake Locker having an opportunity to jump into the Heisman race with a great performance over a solid Nebraska defense, just for starters.  

Many eyes will be watching Nebraska's QB situation closely, with redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez making his first road start.  He's a run first, pass second QB that has been making his living off multiple big plays on the ground in each of his first two starts.  He's shown a strong, but somewhat erratic arm.  If Washington's defense is able to take away his effectiveness in the running game, it's going to be interesting to see if he can win a game with his arm.  If he starts to struggle, Nebraska may look to back-up Cody Green, a bigger QB that throws the ball around more confidence and can still beat teams with his feet.  The Husker receivers have great speed and size with Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie, but it could be Mike McNeill that ends up being a difference maker.  Washington has had trouble defending the slot, and McNeill always has a knack for getting open and picking up yards after catch.  Up front, Nebraska's offense line hasn't been perfect, but they should, for the most part, have their way against a mediocre defensive front of Washington.  Nebraska's rushing attack with QB Martinez and RB's Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead are all very fast, which is going to present problems for a Washington defense that has shown problems defending and chasing down quick runners in their first two games.  Fumbling issues are a major concern, but an emphasis on ball security this week in practice should help alleviate some of those errors.

Washington's Jake Locker is an excellent QB, but he hasn't necessarily looked like a QB expected to go atop the NFL draft next April yet this season.  He's hasn't thrown an interception yet and doesn't make many negative plays, but he also hasn't put the team on his back and led them to victory.  Much of the success last week through the air was thanks to WR Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, as they picked up most of their yards after catching balls on short routes.  Locker is at his best when he is using his legs and scrambling around.  He's got a big challenge this week, however, against a hard hitting, fast defense in Nebraska.  Some of the most exciting match-ups to watch this week will be WR's Kearse and Aguilar going up against Nebraska's stellar CB's Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard.  It will be interesting to see how the Huskies decide to keep the ball away from the Nebraska corners.  Up front, Washington is shaking up their offensive line this week, hoping to see an improvement after having some issues with getting pushed around.  The main change is putting in a true freshman, Erik Kohler in at starting LG.  He talented, for sure, but he's green and up against Nebraska's defensive tackles, is a match-up Nebraska will win nearly every time out.  Nebraska's defensive front had a better showing last week than in their opener, getting a lot of penetration and disrupting play.  That should continue this week, although not to the same degree as against Idaho.  RB Chris Polk is heating up this season, but most of his yards are coming in the second halves of games as defenses wear down.  Nebraska has had some difficulty stopping a good rushing attack, so Polk might be poised for a big day.  

Nebraska and Washington are both in the process of bringing their programs back to the nation's elite.  At this point in time, Nebraska is a few steps ahead.  Washington is a step up in competition for Nebraska, and this should be one of the better games this week, nationally.  Nebraska struggles early in their first road test, but Washington isn't quite ready for prime time and Nebraska's special teams along with their team speed on both sides of the ball will be the difference.  Nebraska wins by about 10 points.

Nebraska - 27
Washington - 17

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