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Originally published September 13, 2011 at 8:00 PM | Page modified September 13, 2011 at 10:02 PM

Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu hopes for repeat of Huskies' Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska

Huskies defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu said he was embarrassed by Washington's 56-21 loss to Nebraska in Seattle last season. Ta'amu, a senior from Rainier Beach, made up for it, playing a key role in the Huskies' 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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

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Nebraska in 2010 brought out the worst in the Washington Huskies, and it brought out the best.

And no player better exemplified that drastic September-to-December about-face than defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu.

The senior from Rainier Beach admitted he was "embarrassed" when Nebraska rushed for 383 yards in a 56-21 win in Seattle in September, more than a few coming right up the middle.

But he was a key player when UW dominated up front in the Holiday Bowl, where the Huskies held Nebraska to 91 yards rushing in a 19-7 win.

It was Ta'amu who set an early tone in the bowl game when he recovered a fumble on Nebraska's first series, and Ta'amu who capped it off late when he forced a holding call in the end zone for a safety.

Former UW quarterback Hugh Millen, now a KJR-AM analyst, has called it the best performance he has seen by a Huskies defensive lineman in a decade.

Now, as the teams get set for round three at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Lincoln, the Huskies are hoping it is Ta'amu's time to shine again.

"We are expecting the same thing Saturday," said defensive-line coach Johnny Nansen.

The Holiday Bowl was Ta'amu's breakthrough, not only serving notice that he was a player who could lead the UW defense this season but also be a potential first-round draft pick in 2012.

But he's had a halting start to this season due in part to a broken bone in his right hand and UW playing two teams whose schemes favor the quick pass.

"This is more like his kind of game," Nansen said Tuesday. "I talked to him (Tuesday morning) and he was fired up for the challenge."

Ta'amu has worn a wrap that has made it difficult to use his injured hand. He's hoping to use a smaller splint this week.

As for the schemes of Eastern Washington and Hawaii, suffice it to say Ta'amu is happy to see them in the rearview mirror.

"I can't wait to play the run," he said of a Nebraska offense that traditionally is one of the best running teams in the nation and ranks 24th through two games this year at 224 yards rushing per game. "I hope they run it up the middle, and I will try to stop it."

That's what he did in the Holiday Bowl, when the Cornhuskers found their offense limited due to injuries at receiver and to quarterback Taylor Martinez. Ta'amu put an end to any thoughts that Nebraska would just handle the Huskies on the line of scrimmage.

Nansen says Ta'amu, listed at 337 pounds, was in better shape for the Holiday Bowl and had begun playing better at the end of the year, topping it off with the performance against Nebraska.

Ta'amu also points to the first game in September as a motivator and says that in the run-up to the Holiday Bowl, "I just practiced my butt off. I was always trying to penetrate down the middle, trying to get off blocks and just dominate whoever was in front of me, my opponent. I did that every practice and followed through in the game."

If Nebraska had one view of him heading into the Holiday Bowl, however, he knows they'll have another one now.

"I feel like they are going to get after me this game," he said. "I'm going to be ready for it."

It's not exactly the same crew he will be facing, however. Nebraska lost three starters on the offensive line and is going with one of its youngest lines in school history, starting a true freshman at right tackle (Tyler Moore) and sophomores at both guard spots. Nebraska has struggled to run consistently up the middle, often depending on Martinez to get outside for its big gains.

The Huskies know how Martinez can do that after he rushed for 137 yards in the win in Seattle last year. He was held to just 23 in the Holiday Bowl, which he played with a sore ankle.

Nebraska, with new offensive coordinator Tim Beck, has added elements of the traditional speed option to go with the spread offense it ran last season to give Martinez more chances to run.

"The speed-option stuff (is new)," Nansen said. "But they are very similar to a year ago."

Washington coaches say Martinez looks even faster than a year ago.

He certainly was fast enough on an 80-yard run down the sideline to start the second half that just about clinched the victory over the Huskies in September.

And that game remains fresh on Ta'amu's mind, even if the Holiday Bowl served as his coming-out party.

"They embarrassed us in front of our fans, and I want to do the same to them," he said.

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

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