Washington seems to have an edge in motivation, but must show how much it has improved since a 56-21 blowout loss to Nebraska in September.
SAN DIEGO — Washington’s 24-hour rule calls for the Huskies to forever flush a game from their memory after one day has passed.
But once they learned they would play Nebraska again in the Holiday Bowl, the Huskies broke their own rule.
That meant reviewing one of their most painful losses of this or any season — the Cornhuskers’ 56-21 whipping of UW in Seattle.
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Again and again.
“We watched little clips of that every now and then because that really left a nasty taste in all of our mouths,” said senior safety Nate Williams of the Sept. 18 loss, which tied the most points Washington has allowed at Husky Stadium. “That was a terrible feeling, to let a team come into your house and whip on you like that. So whenever we watch those clips and whenever we see that, it really kind of brings back that nasty taste and that’s just more motivation for us.
“It’s in there and it will always be in our heads, so we are going to try to go out there and create a new memory of playing these guys.”
They get that chance when Washington and Nebraska kick off Thursday at 7:06 p.m. in the 33rd annual Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.
It’s a game that not only offers the Huskies a chance to save face, but also to gauge if they really have gotten better since that first game.
A three-game winning streak suggests that’s the case. Thursday could prove it.
“It’s a chance to show how much we have progressed throughout the season,” Williams said.
If the Huskies win, or at least make the game a lot more competitive, concerns that UW got to a bowl mostly because of a soft late-season schedule can be dismissed. And Washington can finish the second season of the Steve Sarkisian era touting that real change has begun.
Sarkisian, however, in his final news conference Wednesday, warned not to place too much importance on one game.
“I think every game takes on its own life and personality,” he said. “Sometimes you can play better against a team year after year after year, but the score might not always indicate that. You have to look at some of the subtle nuances within the game to recognize that. So I don’t know that this is a gauge that we’ve gotten this much better or we haven’t. I’d just like to think that we’ll play better than we did the first time against them.”
Sarkisian also dashed some cold water on the revenge angle. The coach said such talk sounds good in the locker room, but stopping Nebraska’s power running game is more important.
“At the end of the day, if you can’t stop (it), that doesn’t matter,” he said.
And that is unquestionably the key in this game — and maybe the most telling area to judge how much Washington has improved.
Nebraska dominated the first game up front on offense and defense in September, gouging the Huskies for 383 rushing yards and running for six touchdowns while holding UW to 259 total yards.
“They tax you in so many ways running the ball,” Sarkisian said, adding that UW has to be more physical this time.
Nebraska rushed for 200 or more yards in all 10 of its wins this year, but was held to under 200 in all three losses. That may prove a magic number again Thursday.
And if Nebraska is again dominant up front, UW’s supposed edge in motivation may not mean anything.
Nebraska players have admitted that the Holiday Bowl was not their first choice. The Cornhuskers played in the game a year ago, beating Arizona 33-0, and had designs on a BCS bowl until losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
But they also insist they want to redeem themselves for the loss in the Big 12 title game and win 11 games for the first time since 2001.
Washington, meanwhile, is just happy to be anywhere, playing in its first bowl since 2002. This was the last chance for a group of seniors that helped revive the program from an 0-12 season two years ago.
One of the seniors is quarterback Jake Locker, who spurned the NFL to return, saying getting to a bowl was a specific goal. He had an up-and-down season that bottomed out with a 4-for-20 passing performance in the first game against Nebraska.
“I expect him to play a much better football game than he did three months ago,” Sarkisian said Wednesday.
Sarkisian could say the same thing about the entire team, as well.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org