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Originally published September 16, 2011 at 8:00 PM | Page modified September 17, 2011 at 11:02 AM

Third meeting with Nebraska in a year is a chance for Huskies to prove something

The Washington Huskies, who have a six-game winning streak, will try to prove their Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska last year was no fluke.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Washington @ Nebraska, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 4

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LINCOLN, Neb. — The Washington Huskies step Saturday into one of college football's most tradition-laden venues, Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, where 81,091 attend every game, forming the storied Sea of Red.

No better place, then, for the Huskies to emerge completely from the depths.

While Saturday's 12:30 p.m. (PDT) kickoff against Nebraska marks an obvious opportunity for UW to claim victory in its three-game "series" with the Cornhuskers, the bigger picture might be that it also gives the Huskies a chance to pronounce themselves back on college football's main stage, three years after going 0-12.

Washington has quietly — at least, outside of Seattle — won six games in a row, tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in the nation. It's the longest for the Huskies since 2001, when they were coming off their last Rose Bowl appearance.

Proof, however, that not everyone is sold on the Huskies is found in the 17-point spread favoring Nebraska.

Countered UW coach Steve Sarkisian, 14-13 in his Washington career: "I don't think it's a fluke that we're on a six-game winning streak right now. I think that we're getting better."

Consider this game a chance to prove that to the nation.

"This would be a game that would definitely help us out in that area," said receiver Jermaine Kearse. "This is definitely a game that can do that for us."

The trick now is getting it done.

The Huskies found a recipe last December for beating Nebraska — contain quarterback Taylor Martinez and force the Cornhuskers to throw, and control the ball on offense.

But just as Nebraska found that UW adjusted to its game plan from last September to December, the Huskies are sure to find a Nebraska team throwing out a few new wrinkles.

The biggest change might be a healthy Martinez, who had a sore ankle during the Holiday Bowl that slowed him considerably.

That helped the Huskies hem him in. But Martinez is back to the form he showed last September, when the Cornhuskers beat Washington 56-21 at Husky Stadium. And Nebraska has tweaked its offense to highlight Martinez's running even more.

Sarkisian, though, says what worked in the Holiday Bowl can work again for UW's defense.

"Guys did their jobs, held their ground, stayed in their gap, stayed keyed on their assignment and made the plays when they came to them, and made their tackles," Sarkisian said.

Washington's defensive line was dominant in the Holiday Bowl and could have an edge again, with four new starters on Nebraska's offensive line. And Martinez is not an accomplished passer, which could mitigate UW's biggest defensive weakness so far, its inability to stop the pass.

Washington quarterback Keith Price threw four touchdown passes in last week's victory over Hawaii. And with Nebraska featuring a remade secondary, the Huskies might try to throw the ball against the Cornhuskers more than they did last year, when they completed just 10 passes in the two games. Washington also has Chris Polk to turn to again, assuming Washington's youthful line can stand up to Nebraska's stout defensive front.

A third meeting in a year means there aren't likely to be a lot of secrets. But Washington's win in the Holiday Bowl was widely attributed to motivation, and not any scheme. The Huskies wanted to be there and Nebraska didn't, having higher aspirations and having played in that bowl the year before.

Nebraska players don't deny it. Running back Rex Burkhead said attitude is one thing that is different about this team than the one UW played last season.

"We have great team chemistry this year," Burkhead said, saying he thought that was lacked at times the past two years,. "It's the best it's been since I've been here."

The characterization that Nebraska didn't care about the Holiday bowl, however, chafes at the Huskies.

"Everybody said that game, the Holiday Bowl, they weren't ready," said UW defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu. "I feel everybody is ready, especially in a bowl game."

So while the common assumption might be that it's Nebraska that has the motivation this time, the Huskies say they have a lot on the line, as well.

"This game is a game for us to prove that we can continue where we left off at last year and still play at that level," Ta'amu said.

Note

• This week's uniform twist: The Huskies will wear their black pants.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

First one to four wins
Saturday's game will be the seventh between Washington and Nebraska since 1991. The series is tied 3-3:
Date Result
Sept. 21, 1991 No. 4 UW 36, at No. 9 Nebraska 21
Sept. 19, 1992 At No. 2 UW 29, No. 12 Nebraska 14
Sept. 20, 1997 No. 7 Nebraska 27, at No. 2 UW 14
Sept. 26, 1998 At No. 2 Nebraska 55, No. 8 UW 7
Sept. 18, 2010 No. 8 Nebraska 56, at UW 21
Dec. 30, 2010 UW 19, No. 18 Nebraska 7 (Holiday Bowl)
Saturday UW at No. 11 Nebraska

xxxRoad dogs

Nebraska is a 17-point favorite for Saturday's game against the Huskies, one of the biggest spreads favoring an opponent over the Huskies in recent years. A look at the largest spreads favoring opponents in nonconference road games since 1985:

Date/Favorite/Result

Nov. 24, 2001/Miami by 24/Hurricanes won 65-7

Sept. 9, 2006/Oklahoma by 17/Sooners won 37-20

Saturday/Nebraska by 17/#

Dec. 1, 2007/Hawaii by 14/Rainbows won 35-28

Sept. 24, 1994/Miami by 14/Huskies won 38-20

Sept. 26, 1998/Nebraska by 13 1-2/Cornhuskers won 55-7

Gary Dougherty

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