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A spring peek at Nebraska vs. Washington
Richard Linde, 12 March 2009

Nebraska and Washington collide at Husky Stadium on September 18, in a game that could have a profound effect on the remainder of their seasons. Nebraska should be ranked in the top ten -- although its weak out-conference schedule might work against that -- when it arrives in Seattle; as for the Huskies, if they should beat Nebraska, they could earn a top-25 ranking and be headed for a bowl game for the first time in eight years. (Photo of former player Willie Hurst, courtesy of dawgman.com. I liked the purple jerseys back then along with Willie's whirl.)

A lot can happen between now and then, with most of the incoming freshmen arriving in the fall and looking to fill some unsettled slots leftover from spring. Both teams play two games before they meet, NU playing Western Kentucky and Idaho, both at home, and UW playing BYU on the road and Syracuse at home.

For the Big Red, the stadium by the lake, with its warm, purple glow, could be a noisy place to begin a road show.

For the Purple gang, its stadium's noise is its twelfth man on the field, and Husky Stadium should be filled with loyal, hardcore fans -- along with Dubs, the Husky mascot.

Going into spring football, here's a peek at the two teams as they stand now.

Nebraska, out of the Big 12 conference, finished 10-4 in its 2009 season, beating Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl. Both the USA Today Coaches Poll and AP poll ranked the Huskers No. 14 after the BCS title game.

Washington, out of the Pac-10, is coming off a 5-7 season, finishing with impressive victories over Washington State and California.

Nebraska is returning 10 men on offense, 7 on defense and both specialists. Washington returns 9 on offense, 9 on defense and both specialists.

Reference nationalchamps.net for the Huskies' projected starters.

Also, reference this link for Nebraska's projected starting lineup. And this link for an springtime overview of the Cornhuskers.

Last year's starting quarterback at NU, Zac Lee, will miss spring practice, having had elbow surgery on his throwing arm in January. A 58.6% passer, Lee posted a pass-efficiency rating of 126.89 in 2009.

The Cornhusker quarterbacks won't be wearing green, protective jerseys this spring. "The other thing with a green jersey is that a false sense of security develops. We want them to know it's a contact sport and they need to be ready to play the contact sport," says NU offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

Cornhusker fans expect big things from QB Taylor Martinez this spring. Martinez is a dual-threat QB out of Corona, which is located in western Riverside County, about 35 miles from Los Angeles.

Four-star freshman Cody Green (6-foot-4, 220) backed up Lee last season, played in nine games and registered a PE of 100.37. He completed 53.2% of his passes and ran for 158 yards.

Defense was the Cornhuskers strength in 2009.

Nebraska excelled on defense last season, ranking seventh in the nation in total defense. In the Holiday Bowl, it held Arizona to just 109 total yards. On the other hand, Washington's offense was its best defense. For the most part, the UW offense maintained ball control last season and kept its defense, which ranked seventy-ninth nationally in total defense, off the field as much as possible. Remember the ASU game? That is, "We jumped a route, a crossing route, and left the middle of the field wide open," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters after the game.

In the last few years, the Huskies have been notoriously weak against the pass. However, the Cornhuskers weren't much of a threat passing last season, ranking 101st in passing offense, so that part of the contest should be interesting.

Locker will likely be an NFL first-round draft pick in 2011.

Washington's offense this upcoming season depends on keeping QB Jake Locker healthy, and he is sure to wear a yellow jersey -- off-limits to contact -- this spring. Last season, Locker led the conference in total offense, averaging 265.7 yards per game. He finished fourth in pass efficiency, posting a rating of 130.1, according to the Pac-10 stats. Locker finished second in passing average per game with a 233.3 YPG average and rushed for 388 total yards.

Washington's only experienced backups, quarterback Ronnie Fouch has transferred from school, as has walk-on QB Taylor Bean, who played two games in the 2008 season. That leaves redshirt freshman Keith Price and true freshman Nick Montana -- son of the legendary Joe Montana -- to fill in for Locker should he suffer injury. Coach Steve Sarkisian is looking for somebody to walk on at the QB position.

Locker's PE on the game will play to the mercy of Nebraska's PED.

In the past, Locker's pass efficiency, per game, has been a function of the pass-efficiency defense he's faced. In 2009, Nebraska ranked number one in FBS football in that category. In the Holiday Bowl, the Cornhuskers held QB Nick Foles to a miserable 33.67 rating and a 30% pass-completion percentage. However, off that defensive unit, the Huskers lose both safeties (Matt O'Hanlon and Larry Asante), linebacker Phillip Dillard, defensive end Barry Turner and nose tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh, Dillard, and Asante led NU in total tackles last season. The fourth leading tackler, Jared Crick, returns at defensive end.

Defensively this spring, the Cornhuskers will keep a watchful eye on LB Eric Martin, CB Prince Amakumara, and DE Jason Ankrah.

At this time, the outlook for the Huskies' front seven  is specious at best, unless somebody can hornswoggle me into believing otherwise.

The Huskies need to find replacements for their two best defensive players: LB Donald Butler and DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. Mason Foster returns at strong side linebacker and will be joined by Cort Dennison, a five-game starter in 2K9 at the LB position. E. J. Savanah, who started eight games last season, has departed, which leaves either Matt Houston or Fred Wiggs, both special teams players in 2009, to fill the void. Foster starred in the Huskies' victory over Arizona last season. (See "Foster's 'pick-Nick' by the lake.")

Replacing Te'o-Nesheim, the Huskies' career sack leader, won't be easy. In 2009, he was backed up by  Talia Crichton, Andru Pulu and Kalani Aldrich. Pulu, a sophomore, is under indefinite suspension for violating team rules.

In 2009 the Huskies gave up an average of 29.5 yards-per-game more on pass defense than they did the year before under the team coached by Tyrone Willingham which lost all twelve of its games.

Nebraska returns ten starters on offense but loses three key players: WR Menelik Holt, OG Derek Meyer, and C Jacob Hickman. Eight of its projected starters will be seniors.

I-Back Roy Helu (6-foot-0, 215) ran for 1147 yards last season, averaging 81.93 ypg. WR Niles Paul led the Huskers in all-purpose yards, accumulating 1697 yards, based on receiving and returning punts and kickoffs.

The Cornhuskers posted 223 yards rushing against Arizona in the Holiday Bowl and would like to pound the ball against the Huskies while stymieing the Huskies' offense. In 2009, NU's offense ranked 99th in FBS football, so its rebuilt defense will likely be key to its battle in Seattle.

Besides Locker, the Huskies will rely on RB Chris Polk to get the job done on the ground. Polk rushed for 1,113 yards last season, finishing fourth in the Pac-10. Polk had shoulder surgery in January, his second in two years, and won't be available for spring practice. He's expected to be ready for fall.

UW returns the conference's fourth and seventh best receivers, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aquilar, respectively. Four starters are back on what some would call a thin offensive line, no pun intended.

NU kicker, Alex Henerey, booted four field goals in the Holiday bowl, one from 50 yards out and another from 47 yards. UW's kicker, Erik Folk, made 85.7% of his field goals in 2K9.

Looked at another way, this game will be a match up of defensive and offensive minded head coaches.

Nebraska is coached by Bo Pelini, 42, who has a 20-8 record as he enters his third year. Previously, he was the defensive coordinator at LSU from 2005-2007.

Steve Sarkisian, 36, enters his second year as head coach of the Dawgs, posting a 5-7 record in his first year. Previously, he was the offensive coordinator at USC. Sark, as we fans affectionately call him, signed seven offensive linemen to his 2010 recruiting class.

Nebraska wins on 13 of the 22 stats shown below, and if the game were played tomorrow, the Huskers would be favored to husk the Huskies, leaving them perhaps with a shell for their 8-oared crew.

Washington and Nebraska have played one another seven times, and the series is currently deadlocked at three wins and one tie each.


Table 1. 2009 NCAA Statistics





1. Ball Control                            

Time of Poss.

30:30 47 30:25 49

3rd-down conv.

38.31 69 46.15 14

First downs

16.4 111 20.33 46

2. Blocking and Tackling

Rushing Offense

147.07 62nd 139.00 68th

Passing Offense

175.71 101 263.5 40

Rushing Defense

93.4 9 148.83 64

Passing Defense

178.86 14 240.67 93

Pass Eff Defense

87.28 1 139.77 99

Pass Eff Offense

122.38 79 130.16 55

Total Offense

322.79 99 375.5 62

Total Defense

270.0 7 389.5 79

3. Mistakes


7.14 93 6.92 87

Turnover Margin

0.36,+5 33 .33,+4 35

4. Field Position

Kickoff Returns

24.09 19 18.62 112

Punt Returns

11.59 30 9.45 54

Punting net/punt

34.67 81 36.47 47

Kickoff coverage

19.41 15 20.66 38

5. Scoreboard Baby

Field Goals

1.71 5 1.50 19

Redzone Offense

.81 69 .86 29

Redzone Defense

.64 1 .82 64

Points For

25.0 75 26.08 69

Points Against

10.43 1 26.67 70


Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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