The reason? Eighth-ranked Nebraska brought along more ammunition and overwhelmed the Huskies in a regionally televised stare-down between two of college football’s storied programs.
The result was predictable, and perhaps a step-back performance for the UW – a 56-21 Nebraska trouncing in front of 72,876, the largest crowd to watch a game at Husky Stadium since the 2007 Apple Cup.
Red was the dominant color, plainly visible all around the stadium – with an estimated 20,000 Nebraska fans in attendance – and conspicuous in the end zone as well.
In fact, Nebraska’s 56 points were the most at Husky Stadium since California scored 56 in 2007.
Touted Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez played the part of Heisman Trophy hopeful much more convincingly than UW’s Jake Locker, rushing for three touchdowns and passing for another score in a scintillating road-venue debut.
His longest jaunt – an 80-yard touchdown sprint down the left sideline to open the second half – proved to be the highlight moment of Nebraska’s big-play afternoon, and the backbreaking play for the UW defense, giving the Cornhuskers a 35-14 lead.
“I don’t get nervous before games,” Martinez said. “I don’t really care if it’s a home game or an away game; if it’s in a loud environment or not. It doesn’t really bother me.”
Martinez (137 rushing yards) rolled to his third consecutive 100-yard rushing effort. He had plenty of help. Running backs Roy Helu Jr. (110) and Rex Burkhead (104) contributed to the team’s 383 rushing yards.
It was the first time the Huskies allowed three players to rush for 100 yards in the same game.
As poorly as the Huskies tackled and tracked Martinez, as poor as they were in getting off the field on key third-and-long plays, the origin of their problems Saturday were elsewhere.
Aside from a hot streak in the second half last week against Syracuse, the UW offense simply hasn’t held up its end.
Particularly culpable is Locker, who finished 4-of-20 for 71 yards with two interceptions.
His very first pass, intended for Devin Aguilar, was thrown into double coverage and picked off by nickel back Eric Hagg, who returned it past midfield.
Two plays later, Martinez’s 24-yard touchdown strike to tight end Mike McNeill gave Nebraska a 7-0 lead.
Part of Locker’s problems stemmed from pressing, trying to squeeze the ball to his playmakers, Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse.
“I didn’t really hook up with anybody,” Locker said.
The other part was Nebraska’s secondary. It is as good as they come.
“(Nebraska) is the top pass defense in America,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Those guys are really good. … They made plays that I haven’t seen in a while.”
Nonetheless, the Huskies stayed close much of the first half.
After Nate Fellner recovered a fumble deep in Nebraska territory, Chris Polk’s 2-yard TD run cut the deficit to 21-14 with 5:06 to go.
Nebraska responded with a 48-yard drive, capped by Martinez’s 1-yard run for a 28-14 halftime lead.
And after the break, Martinez went a bit longer for the backbreaking score.
“We’ve played Oklahoma, and a lot of great teams here and there,” Huskies linebacker Mason Foster said. “They’re (the Cornhuskers) definitely at the top of the list. They’re physical, fast and have a great scheme. I feel like they’re going to do well the rest of the year. You could see it today.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports/