By Dennis J. Freeman
The hyped showdown between two of the more talented running quarterbacks in the nation flamed out and turned into a defensive struggle.
Heralded Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had a rough start in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. It would finish the same way for the redshirt freshman. Washington used the feet and arm of quarterback Jake Locker and rode its defense to a 19-7 win at Qualcomm Stadium.
“We were able to convert on some third downs and move the ball when things weren’t there in the passing game because of it,” Locker said.
Martinez, who came into the game with 942 rushing yards and another 1,578 yards through the air, was bottled up all night. Washington’s defense sacked Martinez four times and forced him into a 7-for- 9, 53-yard passing night.
Locker rushed for 85 yards and tailback Chris Polk added 177 yards on the ground to lead Washington’s offense.
The first three drives of the game that Martinez and Nebraska’s offense tried fizzled badly. There was a fumble by Nebraska on the game’s opening series, which led directly to Washington’s first score of the game.
The next two offensive drives for Martinez and Nebraska were listless. By the end of the first quarter, Washington had built a 10-0 lead. The first 12 minutes of the game summed up Martinez’s night as he faced steady harassment and relentless pressure all evening from Washington’s defensive front.
Martinez finally found his groove in the second quarter, leading Nebraska on a 10-play, 47-yard scoring drive to cut Washington’s lead to three, thanks to a 15-yard touchdown pass he threw to Kyler Reed.
That score seemed to jumpstart Nebraska. Nebraska’s defense then shut down a Washington fourth-and-one conversion, giving the Cornhuskers ball near midfield.
Momentum appeared to have shifted and it looked as if Nebraska would feed off the turnover on down. Instead, Martinez threw an ill-advised pass on third-and-long that was intercepted by Washington’s Nate Fellner. For the rest of the half neither team did much after that.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Locker, considered to be a potential first-round draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, did basically nothing in the first half, rushing for just 17 yards on five carries. He also failed to complete any of the six passes he attempted in the first half.
Locker rebounded from that lackluster first half with a quick start, rumbling and stumbling his way for a 25-yard touchdown run on Washington’s opening possession in the third quarter to give the Huskies a 17-7 lead. Locker then began to dominate the game with his feet.
But with an opportunity to put the game away in the fourth quarter, Washington was stopped just short of the goal line on fourth down, turning the ball over to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers then made a boo-boo when Ricky Henry was called for holding in the end zone.
As a result of that mistake, Nebraska gave Washington two more points and the ball back. With the way Nebraska’s offense was moving the ball all night that miscue pretty much sealed the game for Washington.
“I’m embarrassed,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “I obviously didn’t get them ready to play. I thought we were ready to play. I liked our plan. We didn’t execute very well. We obviously didn’t play our best football.