Sept. 13, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Alameda Ta'amu may be as well-known among Nebraskans as Herbie Husker right now.
"Hopefully, they know about me," the Huskies' senior brick wall of a defensive tackle joked with a small, wry smile following Tuesday's practice at Husky Stadium.
Oh, no, the Cornhuskers haven't forgotten what Ta'amu did to them the last time Washington and Nebraska met in their new miniseries, in December's Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Rarely has a Huskies defensive lineman performed so well on a big stage. Ta'amu was directly responsible for nine UW points, something for which tackles aren't exactly known. His night was downright Steve Emtman-like.
Ta'amu started his national breakout in San Diego Dec. 30 by recovering a fumble early in the first quarter. That set up the Huskies' opening touchdown. In the second half he sacked QB Taylor Martinez so violently it knocked the dynamic key to the Cornhuskers' offense out of the game.
Then, with Nebraska backed up on their goal line and Martinez's fill-in trying to pass early in the fourth quarter, Ta'amu broke through the line so forcefully that his opponent had to drag him down 1 yard into the end zone. The holding penalty and resulting safety effectively sealed UW's redemptive 19-7 victory - and its first bowl win in a decade.
Ta'amu, Hauoli Jamora, Everrette Thompson, Talia Crichton - playing without three injured defensive line mates that night - held Nebraska to 49 fewer points and 344 fewer yards than the Cornhuskers got in rolling to a 35-point win at UW last September.
So, yes, 10th-ranked Nebraska (2-0) will be keying on the vital, 337-pound man in the middle for Washington (2-0) in Round Three Saturday starting at 12:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium (ABC/ESPN television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another live, exclusive-access game chat).
There is liable to be more red on Ta'amu in Lincoln than on that Herbie Husker mascot's overalls.
"I feel like they are going to get after me this game," Ta'amu said. "I'm going to be ready for it. "When I was going into the (bowl) game I felt like they thought they were going to kill me in the middle like they did in that first game. But I felt good. I wanted them to not expect what I had planned for them, or how ready I was."
Also exciting to Ta'amu: Saturday he will finally be facing an opponent that won't run away from him.
After the quick, finesse, pitch-and-catch offenses of Eastern Washington and Hawaii called a combined 117 passes in the Huskies' first two games, Nebraska will come right at UW's defensive front with power runs by Rex Burkhead and speed option play with the lightning-fast Martinez.
"This is more like his kind of game," Washington defensive line coach Johnny Nansen said of Ta'amu, an All-Pac-12 candidate this season. "(Tuesday) morning I talked to him and he's excited for the challenge.
"The way he played last year and in that last game, I think you are going to see that (Saturday)."
Ta'amu took Nebraska's 383 yards rushing and its 56-21 win at Washington last September personally. He admittedly wandered too far from his assigned gaps and responsibilities, allowing Martinez, Burkhead and running back Roy Helu Jr. to romp up the middle of the Huskies' defense.
In the Holiday Bowl - over the final four games of Washington's 2010 season, in fact - Ta'amu and his D-line mates stayed disciplined in their own gaps and did their own jobs. The results: A four-game winning streak, and a program revival.
Asked to describe the difference, Ta'amu said: "I'm just staying in my gap and trying to dominate the middle."
The defensive line that played in the Holiday Bowl has returned basically intact, with the reinforcements of 335-plus-pound freshman Danny Shelton and 330-pound redshirt freshman Lawrence Lagafuaina adding even more bulk inside. Those backups, who have also had their roles reduced by UW's pass-heavy opponents so far this season, could become huge Saturday with Nebraska primed to come directly at the Huskies yet again.
"(We have) a lot of confidence going into this game, especially with the D-linemen," Ta'amu said. "Because a year later, a couple months later we are a couple games better. And we feel we can play better this week."
QUICK HITS: Much was made about coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff challenging the Huskies last week after they played tentatively in the opener. They might be even more fiery and demanding this week. Practices feel even more intense - and not just to those watching them. "Coaches, you are seeing, they are crazy (Tuesday)," Ta'amu said. "Our challenge is to meet them at the same level they are at now, or even more. And I don't think that's going to be that hard, because everybody is pretty fired up.'' ... This showdown with the Cornhuskers is standard fare lately for the Huskies. Their Game 3 opponents since 2007: Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Nebraska.