SEATTLE – Sixty minutes of seeing red left the University of Washington football team green with envy on Saturday afternoon.
Not to mention black and blue.
UW staggered off the turf at Husky Stadium with bruised bodies and egos Saturday, having been taken to the woodshed by a national powerhouse that brings its own traveling show. Backed by never-ending chants of “Go Big Red,” the University of Nebraska ran all over the Huskies for a 56-21 reminder of what a national contender looks like.
“They are an explosive offensive football team right now, so it gives you a little bit of an idea where you are at,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said afterward. “But I also believe we are better than we played today.”
The eighth-ranked Cornhuskers (3-0) surprised the Huskies with a couple of early passes but ran all over UW for most of the rest of the afternoon. Nebraska piled up 383 rushing yards, had three different 100-yard rushers and broke the Huskies’ backs with an 80-yard run by quarterback Taylor Martinez on the opening play of the second half.
During one stretch that covered the final 9 1/2 minutes of the first half and extended well into the second half, the Cornhuskers ran the ball on 18 consecutive snaps – resulting in 202 yards and three touchdowns to help turn a 14-7 nail-biter into a 35-14 blowout.
Amid all the high expectations that had been placed on this UW team heading into the season, that stretch of football left the Huskies looking as helpless as ever.
“It’s unfortunate this day went the way it did because we’re better than that,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to find a way to maximize our potential and play to our potential.”
Playing in a foreign stadium that was filled to capacity – about one-fourth of the announced crowd of 72,876 seemed to be dressed in Nebraska red – the Cornhuskers jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead behind an unexpected passing game. Nebraska’s second play from scrimmage was a rollout pass that resulted in a 24-yard touchdown from Martinez to tight end Mike McNeill. The Huskers used a 55-yard pass play on their next possession to set up Martinez’s 1-yard touchdown dive, and suddenly the Huskies found themselves in a 14-0 hole after just five Nebraska plays and 4:15 of elapsed time.
UW (1-2) responded by going on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in Jake Locker’s 7-yard touchdown scramble, and suddenly the Huskies looked like they might be in for a back-and-forth day. The UW defense responded with a couple of stops before Nebraska started running the ball down the Huskies’ throats to open things up.
While UW did turn a Nebraska turnover into a touchdown to get within 21-14 with 5:06 remaining in the first half, the Cornhuskers marched 48 yards on eight consecutive running plays – the final one was Martinez’s second touchdown of the afternoon – to go into halftime leading 28-14.
Then Martinez really broke the Huskies’ will by breaking off the 80-yard run after a fake handoff and keeper to the left sideline. UW safety Nate Williams bit on the ball fake, leaving the outside exposed, and the speedy Martinez sprinted 80 yards untouched to score his third touchdown of the afternoon and essentially put the game out of reach.
Even though the Huskies scored a touchdown of their own two plays later, Nebraska seemed to have an answer for everything UW did in an effort to stay in the game and maintained a lead of at least 14 points throughout the second half.
“They had a lot of energy coming out, and it took awhile for us to find ourselves,” UW defensive tackle Cameron Elisara said. “We’d find ourselves and find ourselves, and then we’d lose ourselves again. It was just a matter of maintaining our composure through the entire game and maintaining that level of energy that we were supposed to play with.”
Nebraska responded to UW’s quick touchdown to score on its next two possessions, giving the Cornhuskers a 49-21 lead and leaving those fans who were dressed in purple wondering what went wrong.
“That one is hard for me to swallow just to say that that team is that much better than us,” Sarkisian said of the eighth-ranked Cornhuskers. “That one is hard for me to accept. But I guess I have to, until we prove otherwise.”
The Huskies had to try to overcome one of Locker’s worst statistical games as a Husky. The senior completed just 4 of 20 passes for 71 yards and was intercepted twice.
Almost as frustrating was a defense that seemed to make big strides a week earlier but looked like a wet paper towel against Nebraska’s run game. The Cornhuskers averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
“The offensive line – that was the key to the whole game,” said Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead, who joined Martinez and running back Roy Helu Jr. as 100-yard rushers Saturday.