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Washington vs. Nebraska II: A different story?

SAN DIEGO – If you tuned out of the first Washington-Nebraska meeting before halftime 31/2 months ago, then got stuck in a time machine and just broke free in the hours leading up to tonight’s Holiday Bowl, you might be thinking one thing:

Shouldn’t that one-sided blowout be over yet?

No, it’s just starting over again – kickoff is at 7:06 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium – and neither head coach is putting much stock in what happened on that September day as the Cornhuskers rolled to a 56-21 victory in Seattle.

“Different time, different place,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.

Still, the difference isn’t enough to convince oddsmakers the game will play out any differently. The 17th-ranked Cornhuskers, winners of the Big 12 North Division, are two-touchdown favorites over the Huskies, who come in as the first 6-6 team in Holiday Bowl history.

“It’s not very often that you get to play the same team twice in a year,” UW safety Nate Williams said. “To get that opportunity, we want to take advantage of it as much as we can, to show the nation and to prove to ourselves and our coaches that what we showed in week No. 3 is not how we normally play. That team wasn’t the Husky team, I guess you could say.”

Hungry or fat and happy, motivated or disinterested – one thing about the Cornhuskers that cannot be debated is their bowl-game success under Pelini. Nebraska is 3-0 in the postseason under Pelini.

And in those bowl games, the job has been done by the defense, which has given up a grand total of 17 points in victories over Michigan State (17-3 win in 2003 Alamo Bowl, with Pelini as interim coach), Clemson (26-21 win in 2009 Gator Bowl) and Arizona (33-0 win in last year’s Holiday Bowl).

“I like the schedule we have for bowl games,” Pelini said. “We don’t overdo it. We take a business-like approach to it. I don’t think there’s anything magical to it.”

Well, maybe there is – or will have to be – on the UW side.

While the Huskies’ last bowl game was in 2002, Sarkisian was in the postseason in all seven of his seasons as an assistant at Southern California. And over the past three weeks, he’s laid out a bowl-game preparation template for his team to follow – virtually the same one that USC followed under then-coach Pete Carroll.

The early part of the schedule focused on resting veteran players and developing younger players – something that seemed to get the whole team energized as a primer.

The next week was five days of game-plan installation in Seattle.

The fact that UW arrived in San Diego on Dec. 23 was no coincidence – it was part of the blueprint Sarkisian is following. It gave the Huskies five more days to reinstall or reiterate the game plan, as if it was another normal practice week.

“I think that our football clocks, the way they are structured is it’s really a six-day event, but five days leading up to the (game). What I noticed, and Pete did too, is that sometimes (when) you practice in blocks of two to three practices at a time, you lose that rhythm,” Sarkisian said.

So it’s “the same practice structure, to a point where we really have this thing honed in and understand what we are trying to get down. In turn, hopefully we are executing at a very high level,” he added.

Whether it works and nets a victory – Sarkisian concedes that when it comes to preparing for a bowl game, “there are a lot of ways to skin a cat” – won’t be determined until long after the sun has set tonight in San Diego.

“Every time you play, you’ve got to earn it on the field,” Pelini said. “This is going to be a heck of a football game. I know they’re ready, and I think our team will be ready to go. It’s the team that makes the plays (tonight) that’s going to win the football game – period, end of story. Whatever happened in September, that’s over. That was a long time ago. There are a lot of things that have happened since then.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

PRIME NUMBERS

NEBRASKA

3 Taylor Martinez (QB), 6-1, 205, Freshman

Likely still not fully healthy (toe), so big-play rushing could be limited.

4 Lavonte David (OLB), 6-1, 210, Junior

First-year starter is like a stick of dynamite – “Boom!” – for quarterbacks.

21 Prince Amukamara (CB), 6-1, 205, Senior

Says if the referee allows him to use his hands on receivers, he’ll jam away.

22 Rex Burkhead (RB), 5-11, 210, Sophomore

Suddenly, the ‘Wildcat’ is back in the game plan – with him running it.

95 Pierre Allen (DE), 6-5, 265, Senior

Does UW’s Cody Habben really have a chance to contain Allen? Nah.

WASHINGTON

1 Chris Polk (RB), 5-11, 214, Sophomore

Should be able to attack middle of Nebraska defense for big scampers.

10 Jake Locker (QB), 6-3, 230, Senior

Fire away in final game? His No. 1 priority is to keep UW offense on field.

31 Cort Dennison (MLB), 6-1, 236, Junior

Missed first meeting (head); should do a good job of settling down Huskies defense.

73 Drew Schaefer (C), 6-4, 281, Sophomore

When pressure has gotten to Locker, it usually has come up the middle.

74 Alameda Ta’amu (DT), 6-3, 330, Junior

Blames himself for not slowing Nebraska rushing attack first time around.

Todd Milles, staff writer

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