Washington coach Steve Sarkisian says revenge didn't play a factor when the Huskies beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last season, and it won't be a factor when the teams play Saturday.
No one doubts that emotion is a factor in college football.
Just how much can be trickier to determine.
Washington’s two games with Nebraska last year, however, gave evidence that emotion can be game-changing as a fired-up UW squad got revenge for a September thrashing, beating the Cornhuskers in a rematch, 19-7, in the Holiday Bowl.
“They came ready to play and I don’t think as a whole team that we did,” said Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead. “They kicked us in the butt every single play. They just outworked us.”
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So now, as the teams prepare for a meeting in Lincoln on Saturday, the obvious assumption is that the Cornhuskers will be frothing at the mouth waiting to get back at the Huskies.
And, some surmise, that feeling alone could be enough to carry the Cornhuskers — oddsmakers surely took that into consideration in making Nebraska a 17 ½-point favorite.
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian in his Monday news conference, however, said it’s not that simple.
“I don’t think revenge plays a factor,” he 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.”
But almost at the same moment Sarkisian was making that comment, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was asked his initial thoughts on playing Washington and responded: “Just the revenge that happened from last year at the Holiday Bowl” and then added he thinks “the whole team” is fueled by wanting to get back at UW.
That was the general theme as gameweek began in Lincoln as Nebraska players said Washington simply wanted it more when the teams played in the Holiday Bowl.
Not only had Nebraska already beaten the Huskies handily (56-21) but the Cornhuskers were also coming off the disappointment of a close loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game that cost them a spot in the BCS, and then the surprise of being sent to the Holiday Bowl for a second straight year.
It was widely presumed at the time that the Big 12 penalized Nebraska — which had already announced its intention to leave the conference for the Big Ten — by sending it to a repeat performance in the Holiday Bowl instead of its preferred destination of the Insight or Alamo bowls. Nebraska had beaten Arizona the previous year in the Holiday Bowl.
“I don’t know if some guys got down there and were thinking, ‘Oh man, Washington again?’ or ‘We’re back at the same bowl game,’ or what,” Burkhead said. “All I know is, we definitely didn’t come ready to play and weren’t executing.”
Martinez told Nebraska reporters: “I guess they came out and played harder than us. Maybe we just thought since the very first game we beat them so bad, and in the second game we were lackadaisical about it, and we thought we’d come out there and stomp on them. It didn’t happen that way, and they came out and played harder than us.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini evaded the question of his team’s mentality that night, saying: “We got beat. I mean, flat out, they beat us. That would be taking away from what they did. They outplayed us that night.”
But certainly one imagines Pelini will note a time or two how UW won the battle that night — and how it was later highlighted in an ESPN documentary series on former Huskies quarterback Jake Locker.
Washington receiver Devin Aguilar, asked how he thinks the Holiday Bowl will impact this game, said, “Them not underestimating us.”
Burkhead, though, insists the ultimate motivation isn’t so much showing Washington, but showing themselves, they are a better team than they were that night in San Diego.
“I’m sure everyone feels it, and of course you’ve got to be able to want to go out and win because you’ve got that bad taste in your mouth from last year,” said Burkhead. “But that shouldn’t be our main motivator at all.
“That motivator is very temporary. You don’t want that to be your motivator throughout the game or practice because it only lasts for a few seconds. Our motivation is to go out and play like we can.”
• Middle linebacker Cort Dennison was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the week after making 12 tackles and forcing a fumble against Hawaii. Everrette Thompson was special teams player of the week after blocking two extra points.
• UW’s Sept. 24 game against California will begin at 12:30 p.m. and will be televised on ROOT Sports.
• Sarkisian said the main lingering injury concern entering the week is safety Nate Fellner, who suffered a hamstring injury against Hawaii. Fellner was replaced by Justin Glenn late in Saturday’s game. Also now available at that spot if needed is Taz Stevenson, who has worked his way back after struggling through training camp with a knee injury.
• While Sarkisian lavishly praised the atmosphere at Nebraska, he said he doesn’t worry that it will prove too much for his players. “Intimidation doesn’t have any factor on our football team ever,” he said. “If we play the (Dallas) Cowboys we won’t be intimidated.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.