SAN DIEGO – They barked all week like heavily favored, fun-loving Dawgs, not two-touchdown underdogs to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
And then Washington went out on Thursday night and accomplished something few would have imagined – beating the Cornhuskers at their own game.
Pushed around and aside 31/2 months ago in a blowout loss in Seattle, the Huskies avenged their defeat by halting 17th-ranked Nebraska, 19-7, in front of a near-sellout crowd at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Huskies finished the season on a four-game winning streak. The last time they won four in a row was between the 2000-01 seasons when they had a 12-game winning streak.
One of those victories was their last bowl-game triumph – a 34-24 win over Purdue in the 2001 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
This night, the Huskies simply did the pounding with Chris Polk and the ground game, which amassed more than 200 yards rushing.
But the key was easily the best defensive effort by the Huskies this season, who not only sacked touted Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez four times, they knocked him out of the game to start the final quarter.
And when backup Cody Green came on to start a Nebraska drive at its own 1, the Cornhuskers saw it backfire immediately. On third-and-7, they were called for offensive holding in the end zone, awarding the Huskies a safety – and 19-7 lead at the 13:38 mark.
It continued a trend which saw the Huskies start three of the four quarters with points within the first six minutes.
UW quarterback Jake Locker, who at one point in the first half was knocked silly on a hit, led the Huskies to a touchdown on their first drive of the third quarter when he broke loose for a 25-yard scoring run for a 17-7 lead.
But the tone of this game was set early and.
The Huskies’ start couldn’t have been orchestrated any better. They hung tough. Their reads, particularly on defense, were sound. And they seemed to give more licks than they took.
And in one big swoop on Nebraska’s opening possession – a shot to Rex Burkead’s chest by UW linebacker Victor Aiyewa – the Huskies were in business. Burkhead coughed up the ball, and it shot backward. And defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu had a clear bead on it as he picked it up and rumbled 14 yards to the Cornhuskers’ 21.
Immediately, UW coach Steve Sarkisan called a play the team had rehearsed all week – a Jesse Callier pass to Jake Locker, who was wide open along the left sideline for a 16-yard completion.
Two plays later, Chris Polk ran it in from 3 yards out, and the Huskies had a quick 7-0 lead with 9:08 to play in the first quarter.
Unlike the first meeting when Nebraska split the UW defense up the middle with long runs, eventually amassing 383 yards rushing, this time the Huskies held stout in the interior.
The Cornhuskers finished the first quarter with a trio of three-and-out drives, netting 23 yards.
UW did just enough on offense – mainly behind Polk – to keep the ball and put up points. Erik Folk converted a 39-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 1:29 to go in the first quarter.
Nebraska did sustain one drive in the first half – a 10-play, 74-yard march following Folk’s field goal.
The Big 12 North champions converted two third downs – one on a 20-yard Martinez scramble and the other on the freshman quarterback’s 15-yard touchdown strike to Kyler Reed with 10:24 remaining before halftime.
Up 10-7, the Huskies missed an opportunity to add more at the end of the first half when Folk’s 48-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 2 seconds left.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org