Holiday Bowl Blog - Day Three

I have to say that it seems that since the Washington game in September this team has changed. But you have to think that it's changed for the better. But is it realistic to expect the Huskers to do to Washington what they did earlier in the season? Maybe

Think about it for a second, and you realize that there are only two reasons why many might feel Nebraska won't work over the Huskies similarly to how they mashed them in Seattle, 56-21 when Husky QB Jake Locker was stymied, their receivers were bullied and their defense was run through, over and around.

It was never close. The infamous Husky Stadium crowd was non-existent. Nebraska was looking for its first big road statement of the year, and they got it in a big way.

Now, Washington wasn't exactly a good team at that point, and they might not be a lot better right now. They have won their last three, but the best win came against a CAL team, which outside of their narrow loss to Oregon, was pretty pedestrian, winning only three games in conference play.

Washington got blown out by Stanford,Arizona and Oregon

So, to those two reasons, the first is one which goes to something that isn't necessarily an axiom in college football, but it's almost an expectation:

You don't beat the same team in the same year the same way.

It's a hard one to qualify in college football, because even in conference play when there is a championship game at the end, you still don't often see a team face another for the second time in a season, because each of those team's primary annual opponents are in their own division. They then schedule a couple of games with teams from the other divisions. So, it's a different type of deal. But when you are talking about non-conference foes, it's pretty unique, especially when you think about the fact that Nebraska and Washington will play yet again next year as they complete their home-and-home.

Jake Locker should be better, but how much? Against that Husker defense, don't expect a complete transformation.

But back to the rule that really isn't one, teams figure each other out. You can't do exactly what you did before, because the other team will be ready for it. They will anticipate some things they didn't before. They will try some things they didn't before. And for Washington specifically, they will be a little more prepared for the speed of Taylor Martinez, which gave them fits and made the entire rushing attack of the Huskers pretty much unstoppable most of the game.

The second reason has to do with that X-factor that is Martinez.

I'll say this, if I knew for a fact that Taylor Martinez was indeed healthy, I'd predict another Husker blowout and go on about my day, not even worried that the outcome would be any different, despite some of Martinez' shortcomings with ball security even when healthy.

That kid, when healthy, is not just a big play waiting to happen, he's a big play that's going to happen.

As a defense, you can't play the line of scrimmage the same way. The safeties can't play a high zone like they might if Martinez wasn't as likely to run. You can bet that a linebacker would be keying specifically on Martinez, spying him just in case he boots.

Martinez is that good…when healthy.
Martinez is that deadly…when healthy.

And the Husker offense becomes a force when a defense has to concentrate so much on one guy.

But Martinez hasn't been healthy in how long?

Since Missouri, of course. And outside of a convincing win over the hapless Colorado Buffaloes, which lost their head coach two weeks prior to taking on Nebraska, the offense has been almost a moot point. The only thing that's worked has been when sophomore running back Rex Burkhead has been lined up in the "Wildcat" formation.

That's a formation that basically didn't even exist when Martinez was healthy. I mean, why put a running back in the shotgun when your quarterback can run as well as he can, but is actually faster than any RB you have on the team?

The irony comes into this equation, because the Wildcat has been basically a fall back formation as they try to keep what quarterbacks they have left, healthy. Or should I say, quarterback. Sophomore Cody Green has been the only go-to guy, because senior Zac Lee has had a couple of issues, one his elbow problem which is the same elbow he had a procedure on in the off season. And the other has been his wrist, which he has had wrapped from time to time.

So, that formation, meant to keep quarterbacks healthy, was never used until the starting quarterback wasn't healthy at all.

But back to the question about Martinez' health – is he?

Bo Pelini said he was healthy before Oklahoma. But it was pretty obvious he wasn't. Bo has said of different players that they were "fine", only to realize they weren't. I get the notion that you don't want to tip your hand to the other team. But come on, that little ploy is going to help you on maybe your first offensive series, but that's it. Turns out that it hasn't worked at all.

Here we are again, though, hearing he's fine, hearing he's a hundred percent and wondering if its actually true.

The answer to the question strongly impacts this team and this game.

I have come to the conclusion, at least for me, that whether Martinez is his old Roadrunner like self or not, it won't ultimately matter in this game. Washington simply isn't that good. The Huskers dominated the Husky defensive line to the extent that Nebraska didn't need Martinez. They didn't need much other than just not to turn the ball over.

The Husker offensive line (Center Mike Caputo pictured) bullied the Washington defensive line in September. And guess what? The Husker offensive line is better now than they were then.

I don't think that they have gotten so much better since September that they have closed the distance on the Husker offense, Martinez or no – and if you think that Husker secondary is going to be suddenly soft, think again. That secondary is a quarterback's worst nightmare. They dare you to throw it. You may get one here and there, but expect at least that many to come back and haunt you.

And forget about special teams. We know who wins that battle.

The loss of a healthy Martinez has had a major impact on the Husker team as a whole, and, of course, it's mostly negative. Teams play the Huskers differently, and the better teams take advantage of every opportunity they get.

Washington isn't one of those types of teams. They aren't Oklahoma. Heck, they aren't Missouri and they aren't Texas A&M.

They're Washington.

I am personally a fan of Steve Sarkisian, their head coach. But he said at the beginning of the year and before that Nebraska game, he thought the defensive line was the strength of that defense. He said to the Husky fans that his team wouldn't lose a home game this year.

He was wrong on both counts.

Washington is an improving team. They will have to upgrade their personnel, and they will have to get used to each other, which includes continuing to develop continuity in the coaching staff. That's huge. Just ask Nebraska.

But to make that kind of turnaround they would have had to make to give Nebraska a serious run – I don't see it. And I also don't see under Bo Pelini, a Husker team that will take any team lightly. He doesn't, and they are definitely a reflection of him.

So, all in all, the end result is that the game may not be as lopsided as it was in September. But then again, it might. Even if Martinez isn't healthy, Nebraska is too good on the line, their secondary is sick and when comparing special teams, Nebraska almost always wins.

I'll be called a homer for this by those who don't follow the Big Red, but I just don't see how Washington even makes this interesting. They couldn't before, and I don't think that is going to change.

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