Huskies tight end faces tough matchup with Nebraska cornerback, who is projected as the second-best player in the draft behind UW's Jake Locker.
As much focus as will inevitably fall on Jake Locker Saturday, the real key for the Huskies offense may be whether Jermaine Kearse can turn the Prince into a pauper.
While Locker is regarded by many NFL draft experts as potentially the first pick next April, Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara is right behind him on just about every list.
In fact, Amukamara was rated ahead of Locker last spring by the influential National Scouting Service, tied for the top grade of more than 1,400 seniors with Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn — Locker was tied for seventh.
That sets up a delicious matchup between Kearse — the reigning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week and third in the nation in receiving yards at 143.5 — and Amukamara, which one website called the best in the nation this week.
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“He’s real aggressive,” Kearse said of the 6-1, 205-pound Amukamara. “He’s got good feet, he’s a bigger-size corner compared to the corners we’ve been playing against the past two weeks. So it’s going to be a real good challenge. I’m looking forward to it.”
In a phone interview with the Times, Amukamara said he likewise was looking forward to facing Kearse, but noted that he regularly matches up with teammate Niles Paul — a senior receiver also regarded as a potential high pick next April — in practice.
“I like to go against Niles Paul any time I can in one-on-ones, so I think I’m pretty prepped and ready for that (facing Kearse),” he said.
It’s unlikely Kearse and Amukamara will strictly go up against each other all game, and each also has a suitable sidekick as well. UW junior Devin Aguilar has 12 catches through two games and helps give the Huskies what should be one of the better receiving corps in the Pac-10 this year, while Nebraska’s other corner, Alfonzo Dennard, is also regarded as elite.
“We’re excited,” Aguilar said. “We like a great challenge. We know this is a great defense, a great secondary.”
But the main attraction will be Kearse and Amukamara, a native of Glendale, Ariz. Amukamara is of Nigerian descent and says his name derives from being the first son of a chief.
He says neither of the local Pac-10 schools showed much interest in him — his only other visits were to Fresno State and Nevada before he signed with Nebraska, which also signed another Arizona player, Eric Hagg, whom Amukamara says was his best friend in high school. Hagg is now a starting linebacker for Nebraska.
He didn’t become a full-time starter until last season, when he helped key a secondary that statistically was among the best in the nation. The Cornhuskers led college football last year in pass efficiency defense, and while a dominating front deserved its share of the credit, the secondary did its part, picking off 20 passes while allowing just seven TD passes. The first two games of this year have been more of the same as NU has intercepted six passes while allowing two touchdowns.
And while Nebraska plays a variety of coverages, UW offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said the corners may be at their best when they play aggressively. “They will get after you, press you,” he said. “They play a little bit of everything, but they are really good when they are up and they are after you.”
That will put even more of a premium on Kearse, Aguilar and the other UW receivers to get off the line well, run precise routes, and sell their fakes — Husky coach Steve Sarkisian said Nebraska’s secondary read routes as well as any team he has seen.
“It’s just about reading the quarterback’s drop or reading the receiver’s tendencies,” Amukamara said. “If they come off fast or come off slow. We all just practice that and it becomes second nature.”
And while Saturday’s game provides Kearse a chance to break out nationally, it’s also the first real opportunity for Amukamara to show he deserved the lofty rating he received from National.
“I was pretty surprised by that,” he said. “Pretty flattered. But I know the preseason stuff doesn’t mean a lot. There is still a lot for me to prove.”
Huskies to play Eastern in 2014
Washington announced Wednesday that it will play Eastern Washington on Sept. 6, 2014, at Husky Stadium. UW has already announced it will play Eastern to open next season, on Sept. 3. That will be the first time UW will play an FCS team.
• Sarkisian didn’t comment on an apparent shuffling of the offensive line saying it was not yet finalized. But for the second straight day, true freshman Erik Kohler ran with the first unit at left guard, indicating he could get the start there Saturday.
• Johri Fogerson did not practice, still bothered by a hip flexor that held him out last week, and is doubtful to play. That has UW continuing to use true freshman Taz Stevenson — who had been playing safety — at tailback.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.