Huskies, Cornhuskers get set for Take 3

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
2:00
PM ET
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is no fan of revenge, which means he'd write a boring preview for his Huskies' visit to Nebraska this weekend if he were a sportswriter.

Because we in the sports-writing community believe in revenge. The Huskies took it in the Holiday Bowl after an embarrassing showing in Seattle three months before. And now the Cornhuskers want it in the rubber match of a three-game series that's been interesting mostly because of its wildly divergent results.

"I don't think revenge plays a factor," Sarkisian said. "It didn't play a factor in the Holiday Bowl, and I don't think it's going to play a factor in this game."

Party pooper.

[+] EnlargeChris Polk, DeJon Gomes
Kirby Lee/US PresswireChris Polk racked up 177 rushing yards against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Ah, but what we all can agree on is what will be a factor: Chris Polk.

The Huskies' running back had 17 carries for 55 yards -- 3.2 yards per carry average -- in the 56-21 Nebraska win. And in the 19-7 Washington bowl victory he had 34 carries for 177 yards, which works out to 5.2 yards per carry.

The Huskies didn't actually run the ball poorly in the first game -- see 175 yards on the ground. But after starting out with a lackluster 3-6 record last season, the trajectory of the program transformed to the current six-game winning streak when Sarkisian decided he was going to give the ball to the guy in the No. 1 jersey. Over and over and over.

Sarkisian is more willing to work with this angle, in large part because he knows Nebraska's defensive game plan likely includes a few pages on Polk.

"I would say that the biggest factor in that game at the Holiday Bowl was, No. 1, Chris Polk carried the ball 30 times," he said. "But that's not a real secret anymore. I don't think we are going to come out and not hand the ball to No. 1. They understand that. We know that. It's just a matter of how we are getting him the ball, what situations, what types of runs."

If Polk turns in a big game against the Blackshirts, he might generate some Heisman Trophy buzz.

The wild card in Lincoln, however, is Polk's roommate: Quarterback Keith Price.

Price, a sophomore, ranks third in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and has thrown seven touchdown passes with just one interception. He was the big question entering the season and so far he's more than provided an affirmative answer.

"I'm not surprised at all," Polk said. "He's one hell of a player and he's not reached his full potential."

Polk notes that Price's surprising level of success passing means teams can't stack the box to stop him. It also means the Huskies' talented crew of receivers won't go to waste this season. Of course, that crew got pushed around in both games against Nebraska's talented, physical secondary. Sarkisian said that learning to handle press-man coverage was a point of emphasis since spring practices. That's a matchup to watch.

On defense, the Huskies were a completely different crew in the Holiday Bowl than in the first game, but part of that was Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez being banged up. He wasn't the same player in San Diego but he's been his old, fast self in the Cornhuskers' first two games.

The good news for Washington is that while the Huskies' pass defense has been, well, not good, their run defense has been solid thus far. The veteran defensive line has a favorable matchup with a young Nebraska offensive line, but the Huskies do have two new starters at outside linebacker who will be challenged by the elusive Martinez.

While Sarkisian doesn't buy the revenge angle, Polk admits the Huskies had special motivation in the Holiday Bowl.

"We knew in the Holiday Bowl they really didn't respect us because they really gave it to us on our home field," he said. "We really wanted to earn their respect."

And what about this go-around? Said Polk, "We left a bad taste in their mouth. I know their coaches are telling them to come out with their hair on fire. They are going to come out and try to stick it to us."

Ted Miller | email

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