Nebraska rolls over the Huskies, 56-21
UW quarterback Jake Locker completes just four passes in blowout.
Seattle Times staff reporter
This was one time a coach didn't have to wait to see the film later to get to the heart of what ailed his team on game day.
"We need to have tackling drills, I know that," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian after Nebraska's surprisingly easy 56-21 win at Husky Stadium Saturday. "We need to tackle better than we did. We've got to assess what we're doing in practice, and how we're practicing in our team setting, and maybe have more live settings of tackling."
But if only it were that simple.
Even on those times Saturday when the Huskies had the tackle made, they didn't necessarily have the right guy, confused by where the ball was against Nebraska's deceptive zone-read option.
"Sometimes I had my man and I saw my running back, and I shed to the running back and he's not the one with the ball," said UW defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu. "And they are running up the other way."
Whether by design or by execution, Nebraska was unquestionably the better of the Huskies in front of 72,876, an assemblage heavily infused with Cornhusker red. Nebraska's 56 points tied the most ever scored against UW in Husky Stadium (56-17 against Cal in 2005) as did its six rushing touchdowns.
And defensively, other than giving up one drive and one big play, the Cornhuskers overmatched UW all game, sending Jake Locker to one of his worst days as a Husky as he hit just 4 of 20 passes for 71 yards, rarely able to find an open man against Nebraska's secondary.
"As we saw, defensively, they just wore us down," Sarkisian said. "They're a big, physical team, they stuck to the plan of really running the ball, and it wore us down."
UW entered as three-point underdogs, seemingly a program on the rise in the second year under Sarkisian. But the outcome showed that the Huskies still have a long ways to go to handle an elite team like No. 8 Nebraska.
"I didn't think it would be such a one-sided game," said senior defensive tackle Cameron Elisara. "They had a lot of energy coming out and it took a while for us to find ourselves, and then we'd lose ourselves again. I think it's just a matter of maintaining our composure throughout the entire game and maintaining that level of energy."
Indeed, there were a lot of mood swings in a game that featured six touchdowns of 19 yards or longer.
Nebraska scored two touchdowns in the first 4:15, getting the first after a Locker interception.
UW, however, fought back, taking advantage of Nebraska's defense, which often featured six and seven defensive backs, to find holes to run up the middle and cut the lead to 14-7 midway through the first quarter.
After Nebraska took a 21-7 lead, UW got a big break when backup QB Cody Green fumbled, the Huskies getting the ball at the 6. UW scored two plays later to cut the deficit to 21-14.
But every time UW got close, Nebraska quickly reasserted control. A long kickoff return led to a 48-yard TD drive and a 28-14 lead at halftime.
And any thought that the Huskies might be able to change things after the break quickly evaporated when Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez ran 80 yards on a simple option play on the first snap of the third quarter, skirting a tackle attempt by Victor Aiyewa and heading down the sideline.
Sarkisian later called that the back-breaker.
"We were there," he said. "When you miss tackles against a guy like that, he doesn't just hurt you, he kills you. And you saw that right there, to go, boom, 80."
UW scored next on its only real productive pass play of the day, a 45-yarder to Jermaine Kearse to momentarily infuse hope.
But Nebraska came right back on the next drive, scoring on a 65-yard Roy Helu Jr. run, and when Alfonzo Dennard returned a Locker interception 31 yards for a touchdown a few minutes later, the suspense was over.
The Huskies have a bye week before heading to USC on Oct. 2 to start Pac-10 play. They'll need to win five of nine conference games to finish .500, their goal of a postseason bowl game suddenly looking precarious.
Sarkisian insisted, though, that the game didn't indicate that his preseason optimism was misguided.
"Unfortunately we didn't play the way I think we're capable of playing," he said. "And I'm not going to back off of that. I know we're a better football team than what we put on the field today."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org