Washington is heading in to this game riding on a 3 game win streak. They finished the year strong while Nebraska found themselves on the losing side of the Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma.
This is Jake Locker's final chance to show the nation that he belongs in top 5 conversation at the quarterback position.
In a recent interview Locker was asked about his decision to return to Washington for his senior year and if he regreted passing up all that money, his response, "No, no I don't regret it at all".
We will see tonight if he does in fact regret it when he goes up against the 8th ranked defense in the nation and perhaps one of the best secondaries in college football led by cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Eric Hagg.
When these two teams first faced off on September 18th, Nebraska destroyed Washington 56-21.
Freshman Taylor Martinez will get the start in this one, but it is uncertain how well he has healed up from an ankle injury in the latter part of the season. It will be tested once again tonight. He played well in the first half of the Big 12 Championship, but Oklahoma figured out how to slow him down in the second half. Depending on how closely Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian paid attention to how Oklahoma was able to do that, the Huskies could have a good opportunity to duplicate Oklahoma's success against the Cornhuskers.
There will certainly be plenty of pro talent in this year's Holiday Bowl and after the break here, we will take a look at some of them.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR THE HUSKIES:
1. Jake Locker - QB: This is by and large Jake Locker's time to shine. This is it. It is either sink or swim. Tonight's game could very well dictate whether or not Locker is selected in the first round in the '11 NFL Draft. With all the adversity that Locker has had to face, and all the ridicule he has received for returning to school, one can only pull for the guy to have a career game this evening. For any fan of a pro team needing a quarterback, keep yours eyes glued to this senior quarterback in his final college game.
2. Chris Polk - RB: Polk is only a sophomore, but in order for Locker to have success, it is equally important for Polk to get past that first lethal line of defense of the 'Huskers. This is Polk's second consecutive year with 1000 plus yards. Next year, I fully expect Polk to be in the conversations of top tier college running back prospects. Asa sophomore, Polk already has 13 career touchdowns.
3. Jermaine Kearse - WR: Kearse gives Locker a very tall, very talented target. Kearse will definitely have his work cut out in getting open tonight whether he is covered by Amukamara or Dennard. The Huskers safety help could also make it really difficult for Kearse. Kearse had over 1000 yards receiving this year and found the endzone 12 times.
4. Nate Fellner - S: Fellner had 4 interceptions this year and has the abilty to sneak up on passes and pluck them from the air. He is very good at baiting opposing quarterbacks. Taylor Martinez, the Husker's freshman quarterback could very well end up getting fooled by Fellner if he is not careful with the football. Pelini I am sure is well aware of Fellner and will I am sure have game planned for him. If not, Fellner is the type of guy that can turn a game around.
5. Quinton Richardson - CB: This will be Richardson's final game for Washington. One last chance to wow the scouts. He has one interception for a touchdown, so he is perfectly capable of making something happen. He also has big hit ability and has forced fumbles twice, once last year, one time this year. This is another player that will need to have a solid game in order to give the Huskies a shot at winning.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR THE CORNHUSKERS:
1. Taylor Martinez - QB: Even though he is a freshman, he plays like he has been a college quarterback for the last 4 years. With exception to the Big 12 Championship, Martinez has had an exceptional freshman outing. There are not too many freshman that can come in and play the way Martinez has. I imagine that we will see Martinez in all of the draft conversations here in a couple years.
2. Roy Helu - RB: Roy Helu Jr. is without question one of the top backs in college football. He can break it loose at any given moment. He is very explosive and cuts on a dime. He stands 6'0" and weighs 220 LBS. He has 3,370 career rushing yards and 27 career touchdowns while at Nebraska. This will be Helu's final college game, but I imagine that we will see him suiting up on Sunday's.
3. Niles Paul - WR: Like Helu, this will be Paul's final game as a Cornhusker. Paul was Nebraska's leading receiver this year even though he missed 3 games. He missed the final two games with a foot injury but will gear up to play in tonights Holiday Bowl. We will have to wait and see what kind of threat he will be. Washington may key on the run which could be a mistake. They cannot neglect the passing game for the Huskers.
4. Mike McNeill - TE: McNeill is also a threat in the vertical game. He is one of the better tight ends int he nation and will showcase his skills tonight. Washington's safeties will have to watch McNeill as he is very sneaky off the line.
5. Jared Crick - DT: Crick has all the tools and skill set to be the next Jared Allen or Justin Smith in the NFL. His motor does not shut down. Since Ndamukong Suh's departure, Crick has led the defensive line in both energy and statistics. Washington's offensive line has only one hope... slow him down because there is no stopping Jared Crick.
6. Prince Amukamara - CB: Some people have Amukamara ranked as the #1 rated corner in the nation and others have him ranked as the #2. Either way, he is extremely gifted and without question will be starting on some teams pro line up in his next year of playing football. He will make it tough for Jake Locker be at his best this evening.
7. Alfonzo Dennard - CB: When you have a Prince Amukamara on your team, if you are the other cornerback, you're going to receive a bunch of attention. How you respond to it is what will make a young player stand out or sit on the bench. Dennard has been one of those guys that has stared the challenge in the face and brushed it off. He has done very well with 4 picks for 31 yards with one taken back to the house.
8. Eric Hagg - S: Hagg has 6 career interceptions, 3 fumbles forced, and 125 tackles in his career at Nebraska in his final year as a Husker. Hagg and Gomes take off a ton of pressure for their corners to have the success they do. When you are comfortable with your back end help, it makes it easier to make plays.
9. Dejon Gomes - S: Gomes, on the other side of Hagg, is considered to be one of the better safeties in the nation. He will surely be drafted. He has every opportunity in front of him to make it happen at the next level. In fact, all four of these defensive backs for the Husker's do. Locker will be facing a pro-caliber defensive back field without fully having the equivalent to help him out on offense. The odds are no question stacked against Locker, but he has it in him to make it happen. It just won't come easy against Gomes, Hagg, Dennard, and Amukamara.
Summary: As mentioned above, the Huskies finished strong with a three game winning streak and walk in to this game with their heads held high while it is uncertain what Nebraska's demeanor will be. It's a bowl game, so I imagine that they will be up initially. Even though it was a slaughtering in these teams first match up, Washington should play it much closer in this years Holiday Bowl. Locker will have to build confidence early with short passes. It will be up to his supporting cast to make Nebraska's defense miss. The last thing Washington wants to do is get in to shootout. They need to control the tempo and put points on the board as much as possible.
Coverage: ESPN/ ESPN3