Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nebraska uses big third quarter to defeat Washington in shootout 51-38

By Kshell

The #10 Nebraska Cornhuskers(3-0) exacted some revenge on the Washington Huskies(2-1) at home with a 51-38 win. The Cornhuskers used a big third quarter which saw them outscore the Huskies 17-0 to put the game away. The Cornhuskers were led by quarterback Taylor Martinez who threw for 156 yards with two touchdowns then he also ran for 81 yards with a touchdown as well. Martinez played like he did in last seasons meeting in Husky Stadium. The Cornhuskers ran for 308 yards(5.5 YPC) on the day and capitalized on some crucial Huskies mistakes. The Huskies lost this game despite Keith Price throwing for four touchdowns and Chris Polk rushing for over 100 yards. This was a good old-fashioned shootout between two great offense. The Cornhuskers behind Martinez held on for the 51-38 victory over the Huskies as they gave the Huskies some revenge from that 19-7 Holiday Bowl loss last December.

The Cornhuskers won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball first. On the opening kickoff  Ameer Abdullah took the kickoff to the Cornhuskers 47 yard line giving them great field possession. On the first play of the game taylor Martinez had a play action fake then threw up a duck of a pass to Kenny Bell who burned senior cornerback Quentin Richardson for a 50 yard pass play down to the Huskies three yard line. On the following play Martinez then rolled out and hit fullback Tyler Legate for a three yard touchdown pass. The Cornhuskers more known for their rushing came out throwing since the Huskies  coming into this game led the nation in most yards allowed through the air. The Cornhuskers had a strike right off the bat and the crowd was going crazy. This wasn't the type of start the young Huskies offense wanted.

The Huskies would take over knowing they had to respond or risk finding themselves in an early hole. On their first play from their own 20 yard line Keith Price hit Jermaine Kearse for a gain of five yards. Chris Polk ran the next two times for 10 yards total setting up a second and seven. Price hit freshman sensation Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a gain of 15 yards to the 50 yard line. Price would hit Kasen Williams on a bubble screen for a gain of 12 yards to the Nebraska 38 yard line. With Jesse Callier in motion Sarkisian called a beautiful play which had Price fake the fly sweep to Callier then went downfield to find a wide open Kearse for a 38 yard touchdown. The Huskies answered the Cornhuskers touchdown with a touchdown of their own to show them they weren't going to back down this game.

After both teams traded punts the Cornhuskers would go on a seven play 48 yard drive ending in a field goal to go up 10-7. The Huskies would answer with a drive of their own going on a five play 35 yard drive but the drive would end when Price threw an interception at the 10 yard line intended for Seferian-Jenkins. The Huskies defense would force a punt then the Huskies offense would take over trailing 10-7. The Huskies offense would go three and out but Nebraska would fumble the punt which was recovered by Desmond Trufant. Price would hit James Johnson for a gain of 13 yards to the Nebraska 10 yard line. After two failed run attempts to Polk which netted just four yards the Huskies were facing a critical third and goal from the six yard. Price would drop back to find nobody open then sprint up like he was going to take off running only to find Kearse for his second touchdown of the game. For Kearse that was his fourth touchdown in the last two weeks. For the Huskies they would take a 14-10 lead over Nebraska in the second quarter which had the folks in Lincoln worried. Then Nebraska would steal momentum right back from the Huskies.

On the ensuing kickoff Cornhuskers return specialist Abdullah would return the kick 65 yards to the Huskies 34 yard line. Rex Burkhead would rush twice for 11 yards to the Huskies 23 yard line. Then facing a second and 13 after Martinez fumbled out of bounds from the Huskies 26 yard line Martinez would hit Aaron Green for a 26 yard touchdown pass. Green was coming out of the backfield on a wheel route which had defensive end Hau'oli Jamora covering him as Richardson was late to slide over for help. The Huskies would respond with an eight play 43 yard drive of their own. That drive featured Price hitting Johnson for a 24 yard gain on a third and eight. The Huskies offense would stall and be forced to settle on an Erik Folk 41 yard field goal which would tie the game up at 17-17.

With under two minutes to go in the half a crucial play would happened which had a possible effect in the outcome of the game. As the Huskies punting the ball to Nebraska the ball bounced off a Nebraska receiver which should have been rewarded to the Huskies. Instead the officials called a 15 yard penalty for fair catch interference. The replay showed and the national announcers both said that was a blown call. Instead of the Huskies having the ball on the Cornhuskers 20 yard line the Cornhuskers had the ball on their own 41 yard line. The Cornhuskers would go on a 10 play 42 yard drive ending in a field goal to be up 20-17 at halftime.  The Cornhuskers were led by Martinez who was 8-17 passing for 145 yards with two touchdowns while rushing for 52 yards on 10 carries. Burkhead had 36 yards on seven carries. For the Huskies they were led by Price who was 11-19 passing for 138 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His favorite targets were Kearse who had three receptions for 49 yards with two touchdowns and James Johnson who had three receptions for 39 yards. Polk had 57 yards on 12 carries to go with his two receptions for 12 yards. The Huskies were down only 20-17 were getting ball first in the second half as well.  Little did the Huskies know that the third quarter would be their worst quarter of the season.

The second half was a total disaster for the Huskies as they went three and out on their first possession which was highlighted by a key third down drop. The Huskies would punt the ball and Trufant would drill the Cornhuskers punt returner. Although he didn't signal for a fair catch he was called for fair catch interference. The Huskies coaches were upset so they were also flagged all in all the Huskies were penalized 20 yards on that play. The Cornhuskers would go on a nine play 56 yard touchdown drive capped by a Burkhead one yard touchdown run to give the Cornhuskers a 27-17 lead. On the ensuing kickoff due to an injury to Callier the Huskies had four star recruit true freshman Bishop Sankey to receive the kick. Sankey would fumble the ball then as he dove to recover the ball he collided with sophomore Kevin Smith as Nebraska recovered the ball on the one yard line. The Cornhuskers would cash in on that mistake with a one yard touchdown run by Burkhead to go up 34-17. The Huskies would then go three and out while the Cornhuskers would go on a six play 49 yard drive ending with a field goal to go up 37-17.

With the game getting away from the Huskies fast the offense knew they had to come up with a big drive. Starting from their own 30 yard line Price would hit Williams for a gain of 12 yards to their own 42 yard line. After a short run by Polk, Price would hit Johnson for a gain of seven yards to set up a third and one. That is when Polk would rush for the first down with a gain of three yards then follow it up with a gain of 11 yards to the Cornhuskers 35 yard line. On second down Price would hit Kearse for a gain of 15 yards to the Cornhuskers 20 yard line. On third and eight Price would throw a pass a little behind Kearse for a gain of six. Had Price hit him in stride that's a first down instead the Huskies faced a fourth and two. Sarkisian decided to go for it as the Huskies called play action with nobody opened Price was scrambling around then tried to run for the first down but was stop for a two yard loss. The Cornhuskers would take advantage going on a nine play 86 yard touchdown drive highlighted by a fullback dive run by Tyler Legate for 36 yards. The Cornhuskers would finish the drive with a Green six yard touchdown run to go up 44-17 in the fourth quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff the Huskies would finally see a big return for themselves. Kevin Smith would return the kick 64 yards to the Nebraska 32 yard line. After a four yard run by Polk and a dropped pass facing a third and six Price would hit Devin Aguilar for a gain of 19 yards to the Cornhuskers nine yard line. Price would hit Aguilar again for a gain of seven yards to the Cornhuskers two yard line. Polk would then finsih off the drive for the Huskies to pull within 44-24. The Huskies would force a three and out on defense. The Huskies starting the Cornhuskers 43 yard line. Polk would begin the drive with a gain of eight yards to the Cornhuskers 35 yard line then follow that up with a run of 25 yards to the Cornhuskers 10 yard line.  Price would finish the drive with a 10 yard touchdown pass to Johnson to pull the game within 44-31. Then another controversial penalty would doom the Huskies once again.

The Huskies would try to onside kick the ball as wide receiver Jermaine Kearse appeared to have recovered the ball. Instead the refs for the third time missed the fair catch interference rule. On a kickoff the kicking team has a right to the ball as long as the ball travels past 10 yards which the ball did. Nebraska would then pound the ball to Burkhead. From the Huskies 43 yard line the Cornhuskers fed Burkhead the ball four times for 37 yards. The Cornhuskers would finish the drive when Martinez would rush for a six yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 51-31. The Huskies on their possession would score right back as Price would hit Johnson for a 52 yard touchdown to pull the Huskies back within 51-38. The Cornhuskers would grind the clock down from there only to be stopped on fourth down to give the Huskies some life in the game. With under two minutes left down 13 and no timeouts Price was flushed out of the pocket and threw an ill-advised pass attended for Kearse which was intercepted. The Cornhuskers would kneel on the ball to run out the clock as the Cornhuskers would hang on for a 51-38 victory over the Huskies.

For the Huskies they lose their first game of the year despite scoring 38 points on the road. Price would finish the game 21-37(56.8%) passing for 275 yards with four touchdowns to two interceptions. His leading receiver was junior James Johnson who had six catches for 108 yards with two touchdowns. Kearse had five catches for 70 yards with two touchdowns. Aguilar would have five receptions for 41 yards, Williams two for 24 yards and Seferian-Jenkins one catch for 15 yards. Chris Polk carried the ball 22 times for 130 yards(5.9 YPC) with a touchdown while adding 16 yards receiving. For the Cornhuskers they were led by Martinez who was 10-21 passing for 156 yards with two touchdowns while also rushing for 81 yards with a touchdown. Rex Burkhead carried the ball 22 times for 120 yards(5.5 YPC) with two touchdowns. Unlike the Holiday Bowl the Cornhuskers offense was able to move the ball and take advantage of the Huskies poor special teams.

All in all, this is a tough loss for the Huskies as they proved they can hang with a big time opponent while proving they aren't quite ready. The Huskies lost a game on the road despite scoring 38 points mainly because defense and special teams gave up 51 points. Hard to win games when you have bad calls go against you, turn the ball over three times and mainly allow 51 points. When the Huskies trailed 44-17 they didn't quit which was nice to see. In years past the Huskies would have rolled over and quit which the offense didn't do today. The guy leading the charge was Price who was hobbling out there but wouldn't be taken out of the game. The Huskies offense has shown in their non conference schedule they will be able to score points with anyone in the conference. The Huskies defense has shown in their non conference schedule they will be able to give up points to anyone in the conference. The Huskies if they wish to appear in a bowl game this season must clean up their defense. You can't expect to beat everyone every week scoring 35+ points a game eventually the defense will have to start to carry their weight or this could be a long season.


- The play of Keith Price today was pretty incredible with all things considered. Price had to face a hostile crowd, a defense that put pressure on him to score every series, dropped passes and two bad knees. With the Huskies trailing 44-17 his backup Nick Montana was warming up and Price easily could have called it a day as he was struggling at the time in the second half. Instead Price stayed in the game and threw for two more touchdowns. Price I'm sure earned the fans and his teammates respect by staying in the entire game.

Price for the game threw for 275 yards with another four touchdown performance. Today Price didn't distribute the ball as much as he normally does completing 21 passes to only six different receivers which isn't a bad thing. Price has shown he is more than a game manager as he is actually understanding Sarkisian's offense better than Locker did. For the season Price is 56-87(64.3%) passing for 692 yards with 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Price is only a sophomore quarterback you would think would only improve from here on out. He showed guts and leadership in today's loss while having a pretty good game.

- The defense has allowed 110 points on the season for 36.7 points per game on the year. The defense has allowed 1,356 yards in three games for 452 yards per game which again won't get the job done either.  The Huskies offense led by Price and Chris Polk have the Huskies offense going in the right direction but the defense has been terrible this year. The defense wasn't helped out by special teams today as Nebraska had seven scoring drives that went less than 60 yards, with five being less than 50 yards. You simply can't allow all those short yardage opportunities for your opponent. The Huskies defense just needs to be average this year as the offense should average over 30 points a game.

- Chris Polk had another terrific game for the Huskies as he ran the ball 22 times for 130 yards with a touchdown. He appeared to get stronger as the game went on. Polk dating back to last year has rushed for over 100 yards in five straight games and six of his last seven games.

During that seven game stretch Polk has ran for 1,030 yards(5.9 YPC) with seven touchdowns. Polk despite having to have knee surgury just weeks before the opener on the season has ran for 357 yards(5.3 YPC) on 67 carries with two touchdowns. The Cornhuskers gameplan was to stop Polk which they didn't have success doing. Had the Huskies defense and special teams not given up so many points the Huskies would have pounded Polk even more like the Holiday Bowl. Polk makes the offensive line look better than they are as he is great at reading holes plus he is so powerful when he carries the ball. The Huskies should be thankful for Polk who is finally getting a chance to be showcased as a star.

- I felt this was Steve Sarkisian's best game as a play caller. Could be the offense in year understands his playbook better too. The offense is clicking this year averaging 36 points per game. Price has 11 passing touchdowns which puts him on pace for 44 touchdown passes meanwhile Polk is on pace to rush for 1,428 yards with eight touchdowns. Sarkisian every game has about four to five play calls where I throw my hands in the air and scream WTF?!! This game he didn't have a single play where I second guessed him. He has his offense going in the right direction. He lost a quarterback to the top 10 of the NFL draft and somehow has the offense looking better. That is what another year of understanding his system and recruiting will do I suppose. The Huskies are no longer starting walk-ons on the offensive line, the Huskies are five deep at wide receivers, the Huskies have a playmaking tight end and not to mention the strength the Huskies have Chris Polk who some say will be the second runningback drafted in the NFL draft. Sarkisian just needs to figure out his defense because his offense is heading in the right direction.

In conclusion, the Huskies lost to a top 10 team on the road in a hostile environment by only 13 points. The offense didn't once seemed scared of the moment or nervous as they kept responding to the Cornhuskers scores. The defense has plenty of problems and if that isn't fixed soon this season can soon resemble the 2007 season. During that season the Huskies averaged over 30 points a game yet went 4-9 because they couldn't stop anyone. This will be one of the better defenses they face all year long yet the Huskies still hung 38 points on the board. I don't believe in good losses but there was plenty of positives to take from this game. I feel better about this Huskies team now than I did two weeks ago after a win over Eastern Washington. The Huskies offense is already in midseason form now they have to figure out the defense. For the Cornhuskers I'm sure there fanbase is asking the same questions only they improve to 3-0. The Cornhuskers handed the Huskies some revenge but I'm sure there is plenty of respect from both sides. The Huskies now enter Pac-12 play at 2-1 hoping to start off 1-0 in Pac-12 play at home against California. The Huskies offense will be ready next week just a matter of will the defense finally show up.

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