Washington game back in September. They imposed their will on offense. Taylor Martinez and Roy Helu went off. And Jake Locker basically fell out of the Heisman picture and wasn't considered the #1 prospect anymore by Mel Kiper after the Nebraska game.
Now that is dominating.
And while the score of the previous game might indicate that Nebraska should win this go around going away there are much, much different circumstances the second time around. The health of Taylor Martinez is question. Washington finished the season strong and their defense is playing better. But, will it be enough for Washington to be able to beat Nebraska? Here are the things that I will be watching on Thursday night.
Three Storylines :
1. How healthy is Taylor Martinez? I have heard the same rumors everyone else has. I have read the tweets from the media that are at the Holiday Bowl and have seen Martinez running around. They say that he looks good. That he looks healthy. I heard these same words prior to the Texas A&M and Oklahoma game and he was far from being healthy or even looking good. Because I have seen Martinez look great, see the Washington, Kansas State and Oklahoma State games this year, and he was pretty far away from that. He doesn't need to be 100%, but he needs to be closer to 100% than he was in those two games.
2. How improved is the Washington defense? Nebraska isn't the same offense that it was when they faced Washington the first time because Martinez hasn't been 100% healthy, but Nebraska has improvised with the Wildcat and some solid running from Roy Helu as well. But, besides Martinez being banged up it was clear against Oklahoma that guys like Keith Williams and even Mike Caputo were feeling the effects of a long season. Also, you wonder how healthy Niles Paul is? Still, Washington closed out the season better than what they were when they faced Nebraska. Coach Sarkesian seems to think that the defense is better. Let's hope so. Nebraska rushed for 383 yards and threw for another 150 against Washington back in September.
3. How will injury to Dejon Gomes and suspension of Baker Steinkuehler affect the Blackshirts? Gomes, to me, is irreplaceable. That guy is an animal. He is what the nickel/peso defense is all about when it comes to dreaming about what the player would look like to play the CB/S position. He's a ball hawk, period. Nebraska will have to try and do without him though, it seems, because of an injury that now has his foot in a boot. Look for Nebraska to of course run Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard at the cornerback spots then you can look for Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne to play the safety positions with Hagg at the peso. You could also look for some Ciante Evans at CB and also P.J. Smith at S for rotational purposes.
1. Jake Locker You have to start out with Locker here because of how he played in the previous game. Nebraska wrecked him. On Locker's first drive, an interception. Locker finished the day 4-of-20 with two interceptions, but did add 11 rushing attempts for 71 yards which included a touchdown. Still, the Huskers did allow 175 yards rushing to Washington overall which is about 30 yards more than what Nebraska allowed on average throughout the season.
2. Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead - These two are listed because of the obvious reasons of health with Martinez and Niles Paul. Yes, I believe that guys like Brandon Kinnie, who had a big game against Washington the first time, and other players like Michael McNeill, Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed can have an impact, but when you don't know what the health is of the quarterback you need to rely on your ground game. Nebraska has its health in the offensive backfield with Helu and Burkhead who together average a little over 160 yards between the two of them, but against Washington earlier in the season the two rushed for 216 yards combined.
3. Terrence Moore and Thaddeus Randle - With Baker Steinkuehler out, and Steinkuehler is actually the only player to sack Locker in the first meeting, there will be an opportunity for both Moore and Randle to step up and play a little bit. I actually have been pretty impressed with both of these two when I have seen them in the game earlier in the season. I also imagine that Nebraska might try and compensate for not having Steinkuehler by throwing some of that odd front at Washington and moving Cameron Meredith around a little bit like they did against Missouri. It wouldn't be something that Washington would necessarily be expecting considering Nebraska used it only in that one game. I would also expect Nebraska to bring pressure from a variety of positions, especially from the linebacker and defensive backs.
All in all, both teams aren't the same that they were the first time around. Nebraska has lost some punch on offense and defense and Washington seemed to be peaking around the end of the season. You could see a huge shift when it comes to the score because of these immediate reasons.
However, I don't think that the shift will be all that big. First of all, Nebraska played the first game at Washington, a very hostile environment, and that did little to influence Nebraska's play at all, but might have enhanced Washington's play a little bit. Second, bowl games under Bo Pelini have been pretty lights out. He has his guys always ready to go. Third, I think that offensively Nebraska is going to have some things cooked up with this month or so of being off to use against Washington. It won't be 56-21, but not far off. Give me the Huskers, 42-24.