The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Washington Huskies are set to square off this weekend for the third time in the last year. That’s a unique number of match-ups for any two programs that don’t share a conference and adds a certain level of intrigue that this game otherwise wouldn’t have had.
In their first meeting, Nebraska thumped their opponents 56-21 in Seattle. The second meeting, however, was a different kind of affair. In the Holiday Bowl last December, Washington took advantage of a disoriented Huskers group that was ending the year on anything but a roll, and beat them 19-7.
Now, to be fair, there were a number of extenuating factors that must be considered for that game to be put in proper perspective. Most notably, the fact that this came after Taylor Martinez got injured and, the Huskers’ offense slowed down to a turtle’s pace. Before Nebraska’s quarterback hurt his ankle against Missouri, he was averaging 124 rushing yards per outing en route to the offense putting up nearly 459 yards per game. Once Martinez got hurt, that output went down to just under 318 yards per – and scoring output dropped from 38 to just under 22 points.
Not to take anything away from the Huskies, but the Huskers they saw at the end of last season wasn’t the team that they’ll see this time around.
Whereas the defense is almost always the defense, and thus, can be prepared for – the Nebraska offense is completely different and may pose some problems for Washington’s defense on Saturday.
For one thing, while Martinez and his unit haven’t been as consistent as some (read: everyone) would like, they have shown a certain propensity for making big plays when it matters most. Through two games, the talented Nebraska passer has gone all-or-nothing a number of times, and shockingly, so far, it’s worked. In 12 total plays, Martinez and Co. have impressively been able to rack up 499 yards. Of course, there’s a flip side to every situation, and the flip side to this one is that in order to get 12 huge plays the Huskers pass attack has had to put up 54 plays that amounted to a single yard or less.
Whether the aforementioned all-or-nothing strategy is the byproduct of the new offensive scheme implemented by Tim Beck or due to the inefficiencies of the young offensive line is anyone’s guess, though. The line, of course, is the youngest in Nebraska’s storied history and as such, has undergone a serious of growing pains. The biggest victim of the proceedings has been running back Rex Burkhead who has yet to have a breakout game, and has shown a certain inability to run down the middle because of, well, a lack of offense-line created holes to run through.
The Huskers’ rushing statistics haven’t floundered despite Burkhead’s ineffectiveness but, that’s far more the end result of Martinez’s craftiness and elusive speed than any protection he’s gotten or any production by his running backs. To date, Nebraska has accumulated 448 yards. Of that total, however, Martinez has racked up 301 yards – meaning that the running core of this squad has put together less than 150 yards in two outings.
The speed and pace of Nebraska’s new offense has had a dramatic impact on all other aspects of the game for the Huskers. Not only has the defense had to spend more time on the field, but the Huskers have also found themselves losing the time of possession and snaps battles. In the last game, they had a total of eight drives that lasted less than a minute. Furthermore, the longest drive of the whole day for Nebraska spanned a total of 3 minutes and 24 seconds.
For better or worse, Nebraska will introduce Washington to an offense that they didn’t see last December. That will no doubt catch the visiting team off guard, at least momentarily, and allow Beck and his group to gauge how effective it will be. The biggest difference in this one will no doubt be a healthy, more successful Martinez who despite his sporadic play, has shown himself to be the linchpin that keeps this offensive unit rolling around smoothly.
When he’s not constantly fumbling the ball, that is.
Fortunately for Nebraska, Washington is still part of that weaker grouping of opponents that they get to play to hone their skills against as they prepare themselves for the real Big Ten tests down the line.
Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, the Huskers should win this one handily – hopefully with a complete effort for the whole game from the offense, this time around.