Coach's Corner

They're all important. Even though each week's game is an individual war in and of itself, there are big games and there are really BIG games and make no mistake, this is one of the really BIG ones. You don't have to be looking ahead to the Nebraska game on this year's schedule because it's here already.

It's a nationally-televised, showcase game against a traditional powerhouse, at home, and in front of a full house of screaming Husky fans.

Bring it on! Let's see what these kids can do. Let's see how far this program has come.

Let's also accept that conference games are technically more important than those against out of league teams. However, every year you should be testing your team against at least one elite football program in America, and this week is that game. The whole college football nation will know the outcome of this game, particularly if Washington wins.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are that sort of program. They are the real "Big Red Machine" and they will be bringing at least 10,000 of their faithful along with them. They are their state's equivalent of the Huskies, Seahawks, Sounders, Storm and Mariners all rolled into one. We played them four times during my career at Washington and we split with them, winning twice early in the nineties (playing away in 91 and at home in 92) and then losing to them (97 and 98) when we had no business playing them.

I say that because we re-scheduled them right after we had been penalized 20 scholarships over a two-year period. I knew the sanctions would be most felt when those missing scholarship kids would be seniors and fifth-year seniors. It was done for the guaranteed television money.

The game in 1998 was probably the worse defeat of any in my coaching career at Washington. We got beat 55-7 that day and we were never in it. It was so obvious that they had better Jimmies and Joes, and simply a lot more of them. We beat up their second and third strings and held them scoreless in the 4th quarter but it was obvious we didn't have the horses to contend with them that day. Of course they went on to win the national championship, so they were certainly a good team but we simply weren't in their class. That game and the next one, a heart felt last second loss to Arizona ("The Leap by the Lake") led the way to the firing of our staff at the end of the season.

We were determined to redshirt a number of our kids that year and I think that proved instrumental in helping Rick Neuheisel win for the next three years.

This version of Nebraska is in the midst of changing conferences. They let Texas take their ball and go home. The combining of the old Big-8 and the Southwest Conference never really worked for Nebraska because was always directed and run from Dallas. The Big Red, who had long dominated the Big-8, gradually slid from the top to the middle of the pack. They are just now resurrecting their program and for Washington to win this time around they will have to certainly clean up their act.

Coming out of the BYU game, it was obvious that the Huskies needed to improve their pass rush or at least pressure the passer more. They had zero sacks against BYU but got three and missed three others versus Syracuse. They dropped passes in the first game and caught them in the second. They improved their kickoff return game. They made all their kicks and survived with a walk-on punter. They tackled better, although still missed a few in open field. They continued to play young kids and made a great comeback. They won handily. They improved considerably from game one to game two.

We also know there are a number of really good skill players on this Husky team: A quarterback, Jake Locker, who is good enough to beat Nebraska; two running backs, Chris Polk and Jesse Callier, who are really special; two great receivers in Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, and three or four other receivers who can beat you.

The offensive line is still a work in progress. The OL, the fullbacks and tight ends will have to play their very best blocking games for the Huskies to win. They will need to get the push to create creases on runs and protect Locker long enough to use all of his targets. All of this is possible, but the offense will need to continue to improve their blocking consistency if there is any chance of winning a game of this magnitude.

Defensively, we know the Huskies have a great linebacker in Mason Foster, a great corner in Desmont Trufant, and a really good safety in Nate Williams. Cort Dennison is the brains of the outfit and a solid run stopper, and Victor Aiyewa continues to improve with each game. If he improves as much in game three as he did in game two then look for the linebackers to lead this defense to a victory.

The Huskies have four kids good enough to hold up inside against the Cornhuskers and an equal number at defensive ends. None of the players up front is in the 4.5-4.7 speed range, but all are stout enough to play tough against the run. Their inexperience has shown at times on the outside but there has been great effort. They need to have a more urgent need to contain, especially against a Nebraska team that will definitely run outside the box.

It appears that coach Nick Holt may have to dial up the blitzes in order to get a consistent pass rush, but he has plenty in his playbook.

I think the Huskies have four safeties they can win with: Nate Williams is the leader on the back end and is playing at his highest level since he came to Washington; Nate Fellner is a big hitter; and Will Shamburger has great instincts for playing center field, while true freshman Sean Parker will someday be the best of the group.

Joining Trufant as cover corners are Quinton Richardson, Adam Long, and Vonzell McDowell, who have all been starters in the past.

After those players mentioned, the defense is really green and most of the backups are probably still a year away from being able to beat a team like the Cornhuskers, but there are some possible shining stars in there, like Gregory Ducre - who had an interception against the Orange.

The biggest key to beating Nebraska could very well be tightening up the kicking game and eliminating errors and mistakes in that crucial third phase. There can be no margin for error in beating a team like Nebraska, but they can be beaten - and a win here would set the table for UW's first road victory in three years.

Think about it; a win over Nebraska would be huge for this program for lots of reasons. The Huskies need to bring it, and the coaches need to prepare them and give them a game plan to get it done. These are the kinds of games that recruits come to Washington to play in, and there will be top recruits on hand to watch. The Huskies have a chance to grab a piece of the national spotlight and make a name for themselves. This is it. This is the Big Time. This is an opportunity they can't pass up, because a game like this will draw attention to the UW program, regardless of the outcome. This could very well be a defining game for this program.

Now just go win it. Top Stories