SAN DIEGO – Players can watch all the film and read all the scouting reports they want.
But in a sport like football, they never really know for sure what they are getting until the clock starts.
So it was when the Huskies played Nebraska on Sept. 18 in Seattle, an eventual 56-21 loss.
In a much ballyhooed matchup of a UW receiving corps that at the time was being billed as among the best in the Pac-10 against a Nebraska secondary called by many the best in the nation, the Cornhuskers literally knocked the Huskies off stride from the first play and never let up.
They did it with an aggressive style, Nebraska cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard – each regarded among the best in the country – manning up to UW’s receivers at the line and rarely giving the Huskies any breathing room.
It was a strategy UW anticipated but really couldn’t comprehend until the game started.
“Their corners are real physical,” UW receiver Devin Aguilar said. “Going into the first game, we didn’t think they were going to be as physical.”
They do now, and some think that knowledge could be a difference for the Huskies heading into the rematch with Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl here Thursday at 7 p.m.
“I just think having played us once and understanding our schemes a little bit better we are going to see a different approach,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Monday. “Exactly what form that is going to take I don’t know.”
Nebraska’s manhandling dominance of the UW receivers was a big reason Washington QB Jake Locker went just 4 of 20 passing – the fewest completions for the Huskies in a game since 1976.
“We need to be more physical offensively, not just at the line of scrimmage but with our wideouts to create separation,” coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian thinks UW has gotten better at that.
“There’s no doubt we did,” he said. “I thought Jermaine (Kearse) and D’Andre (Goodwin), especially, have really become that much more physical at the line of scrimmage and have made tough catches with guys on them, which is part of the process.”
Still, the rematch will be a big challenge.
Nebraska finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in the nation in pass efficiency defense and allowed teams to complete just 49.6 percent of passes, third-best in the nation. Nebraska allowed fewer than 100 yards four times and was really only lit up twice through the air.
UW ended up throwing for just 200 yards a game, down 36 from last season, as the passing game had trouble finding a consistent rhythm.
That Nebraska is so strong against the pass leads many to conclude that the Huskies will likely try to run the ball more. UW had some success running in the first game, gaining 175 yards.
While Nebraska isn’t as good against the run, it’s not bad, allowing just 144 yards per game and 3.8 yards per attempt.
So UW will have to make some headway passing to have a chance.