It’s a situation you see in the NFL, not in the NCAA. The Washington Huskies and Nebraska Cornhuskers will meet for the third time in 12 months.
In this age of 12-game seasons, nine-game conference schedules and the desire for home nonconference games, the possibility of two BCS teams in different conferences playing three times in a year is an anomaly.
“There’s somewhat of an NFL feel from a coach’s standpoint and the players’ standpoint,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The first meeting came on Sept. 18, 2010, when Nebraska stormed into Husky Stadium and steamrolled Washington, 56-21. With Oregon and Stanford playing in BCS bowls, the Huskies were able to go to the Holiday Bowl. The opponent? The Cornhuskers again.
This time, Washington exacted a little revenge with a 19-7 win. Now the teams will meet again Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
Has Sarkisian ever played the same team three times in a year in his playing or coaching career?
“No, never,” he said. “But the reality is we are a different team, they are a different team this year and the game is going to take on its own complexion. It’s a different game this year.”
So is it a good deal, a bad deal or no big deal?
“The pluses are that you have a little familiarity with their personnel,” Sarkisian said. “The minuses are that they have familiarity with your personnel.”
Regardless of familiarity, both teams aren’t going to change.
“I don’t think either team is going to make drastic changes schematically,” Sarkisian said.
Anybody who’s been around Nebraska coach Bo Pelini knows he won’t be changing his philosophies just because he’s playing the same team a few more times than normal.
“It’s no different,” he said. “I don’t attack it any different. You look at what they do and how they see you. You look at the games from last year and look at what they’re doing this year and we will do the same. We won’t prepare any different.”
And he isn’t expecting anything different from Sarkisian.
“They’ve done pretty much the same stuff over the past couple of years,” Pelini said. “They’ll tweak things for us the same way we tweak for them.”
The differences in both games were striking.
“I think as much as anything, the first time around we didn’t play very well,” Sarkisian said. “We had a bunch of missed assignments. Defensively, guys have responsibilities with the zone read stuff and we weren’t there and we got hurt badly with (Taylor) Martinez running. I think offensively we pressed a little bit, and obviously the turnovers hurt.”
In the second game, the Huskies played a more sound game in terms of assignments and fundamentals. But the larger difference in the second game is easy to point out. It was a hard-running, clock-killing tailback.
“I would say that the biggest factor in that game at the Holiday Bowl was No. 1, Chris Polk,” Sarkisian said.
Polk rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries as part of reformulated offensive attack that featured the ground game first and Jake Locker’s passing second. Washington was able to control field position and time of possession behind Polk’s relentless runs.
“It’s not a real secret anymore,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t think we are going to come out and not hand the ball to No. 1. They understand that. We know that. It’s just a matter of how we are getting him the ball, what situation, what types of runs.”
There is a notion that Nebraska is out of some measure of revenge. But that isn’t the case.
“You just have to approach it like any other game,” said senior running back Rex Burkhead. “You can’t get caught up in getting revenge because they got us last time, or anything like that. ... You just have to focus on the game plan and whatever you need to fix.”
For the second consecutive week, the Huskies have taken home Pac-12 player of the week honors on defense and special teams.
Senior linebacker Cort Dennison and senior defensive lineman Everrette Thompson earned the respective honors for their play in a 40-32 win over Hawaii.
Dennison had 12 tackles (10 solo) and forced a key fumble to pick up the defensive honors, while Thompson blocked two point-after attempts, one of which was returned 87 yards by Desmond Trufant for two points and helped seal the win.
Colorado receiver Paul Richardson was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week after catching 11 passes for 284 yards with touchdown catches of 66 and 78 yards against California.
A sophomore, Richardson set a single game record for yards receiver, and 10 of the 11 catches were for first downs.