Breaking Down UW-Nebraska With OWH's Sam McKewon
There's plenty of national intrigue surrounding Washington's trip to Nebraska this weekend to take on Big Red in Lincoln. The two programs are now meeting for the third time within a year, an extreme rarity in college football. The Cornhuskers won the first meeting in Seattle 56-21 before the Huskies had their revenge at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, dominating the game from a physical standpoint in a 19-7 victory.
For more on the Nebraska side of the matchup, we reached out to Omaha World-Herald beat writer Sam McKewon for his thoughts on the rubber match at Memorial Stadium.
Q: Third time in the same year these teams are facing each other. How is the Nebraska football program viewing the matchup with UW? It doesn't seem as if motivation will be a factor this time around?
A: Some of Nebraska's players are referring to it as "Washington Week," so I'd say the Huskies have their full attention. The Holiday Bowl woke up the Huskers, especially when UW prepared so well for the game and played with such purpose. Maybe revenge is a small part of NU's mindset, but it's more like this: Nebraska knows now what Washington is really capable of doing.
Q: In your opinion, what caused Nebraska to struggle with Fresno State until late in the game?
A: Poor coverage units - Fresno returned a punt for a touchdown - and poor defense. Nebraska didn't stop the run very well and didn't have its usual great night in pass coverage. The defensive coaches - and players - were disappointed in the whole performance. NU's top corner - Alfonzo Dennard, who had the Pick Six off of Jake Locker in Round 1 - hasn't played yet this year after suffering a pulled leg muscle in camp. He makes Nebraska's whole defense better.
After a slow start, Nebraska's offense hit several big plays in a row on Fresno State's defense.
Q: Carl Pelini said the Washington offense was "very different" in the Holiday Bowl than what the team had seen earlier on. What concerns does Nebraska have facing a new QB in Keith Price?
A: (Keith) Price hasn't run much in two games, but Nebraska knows he's mobile and able to turn broken plays into big gains. Washington's receivers have NU's attention, as does the big freshman tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins). It goes without saying that Chris Polk is a focal point, too.
Q: The Huskies are by all indications a young team. Can you describe the challenges for teams who aren't familiar with the atmosphere that is Memorial Stadium?
A: You don't want to get behind early in Memorial Stadium. The crowd can be electric when NU stakes a lead, and opponents struggle to find their footing. Another thing you wouldn't expect is that Nebraska has five video boards, and coaches sometimes have to remind their kids not to watch the dang things all the time.
Q: What's the biggest storyline coming from Nebraska camp this week?
A: Getting the defense back on track. Nebraska's coaches are rightly confident that it'll happen, because when the defense has been punched in the nose, it generally rebounds quite well under Bo Pelini.
Beyond that, because it's Nebraska, there's always chatter about the play of the offensive line. Fans and writers have a high standard there.
Q: How has the play of Taylor Martinez (a name many here in Washington are familiar with) been the first two weeks of the season?
A: Depends on who you ask. If you ask me, Martinez is still the straw that stirs Nebraska's drink. He's back to full speed, he's had five runs already over 35 yards, and when he does find the corner on an option play, he's hard to catch. He's been given much more freedom to audible this year, and he's done pretty well with it. He's a stronger leader, too, by all accounts.
He still struggles with fumbles and bad decisions outside of the pocket. He's completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, as well.
Q: Opposing quarterbacks have had two big games against the Huskies so far. Although the Nebraska strength is running the ball, do you feel the Huskers will try and diversify their attack this weekend?
A: Yes. Nebraska did that against Fresno State. NU has a lot of young, fast receivers and running backs who can stretch the field. They're inexperienced, but pretty explosive.
Q: What will Washington need to do to win the game this weekend?
A: Win the turnover battle, run the ball with Polk, hit a few deep passes and try to contain Martinez in the running game. Martinez might hit a long pass or two, but his big runs deflate a defense more.
Q: What will Nebraska need to do to win the game this weekend?
A: Stop Washington's running game, run the ball consistently and get an early lead.
Q: Where should hungry and thirsty Washington fans go in Lincoln on Friday night?
A: The conventional answer is Misty's Steakhouse in retro neighborhood called Havelock, an old Lincoln landmark where a lot of football legends have had a drink, held court and tucked into a steak. But since it's a landmark and people tend to gravitate there, I'd advise getting there pretty early in the night.
If you're closer to downtown, there's a second Misty's nearby are plenty of sports bars. Lazlo's, in the Haymarket, is popular, but also a hot ticket. There's a popular group of NU-themed musicians called The Sidetrack Band playing at 10th and P. The best of the wing joints is probably The Watering Hole. The Mexican food in town is better than you might expect, but Lincolnites rarely agree on what's best.
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