By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SEATTLE — If there was any question about Nebraska being an explosive offensive football team, it was answered in the game’s early moments as the visitors used plays of 24, 24 and 55 yards to seize a quick 14-0 lead against Washington.
If there was any question the Cornhuskers might allow a 28-14 halftime lead to slip away, it was answered on the third quarter’s first play from scrimmage as quarterback Taylor Martinez ran 80 yards around left end for a touchdown and a 35-14 margin.
Big plays were a big reason Nebraska came into Husky Stadium on Saturday and handed Washington a 56-21 thumping. More than half of the Cornhuskers’ offensive output of 533 yards came on six plays totaling 269 yards, including touchdowns of 24, 80 and 65 yards.
“We couldn’t limit their big plays,” said UW safety Nate Fellner. “That’s something we tried to practice on. We prepared for it, but we just couldn’t get it done.”
“We gave up some big plays and that’s what really killed us,” agreed cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Three games into his second season as UW head coach, Steve Sarkisian seems to have the Huskies headed back to respectability and perhaps prominence. But on Saturday, Washington ran headlong into an offensive team with superior size and strength up front, and terrific athletes among its receivers and running backs.
But it was Martinez, a redshirt freshman, who inflicted the most damage, gaining a team-best 137 yards for three touchdowns and passing for 150 yards and another touchdown.
Martinez was one of three Nebraska ball carriers to top 100 yards — running backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead had 110 and 104 — as part of the Cornhuskers’ rushing total of 383.
It was the largest rushing total against Washington since California ran for 431 yards in 2008.
The Huskies have a bye week before facing USC on Oct. 2, and “we need to have tackling drills, I know that,” Sarkisian said. Heading into a nine-game Pacific-10 Conference schedule, he said, “we need to tackle better than we did today.”
Added UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt, “We did not tackle very well and that disappointed me because I thought we were doing a pretty good job of that for the first two games.”
Washington’s defense came up with a huge play midway through the second quarter when end Talia Crichton ripped the ball away from Nebraska backup quarterback Cody Green and Fellner caught the out of the air. His 11-yard return gave the Huskies a first down at the Cornhusker 6, and UW tailback Chris Polk scored two plays later on a 2-yard run.
Nebraska countered with a long kickoff return and an eight-play, 48-yard drive for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead shortly before halftime. Another TD on the first play of the third quarter put the visitors on top 35-14.
Washington came back with a quick touchdown of its own, but the Cornhuskers again struck quickly, this time on a 65-yard scamper by Helu three minutes into the second half.
And by then, Holt said, “we were starting to get pushed around.”
“They’re a big, physical team,” Sarkisian said. “They stuck to their plan of running the ball and they really wore us down. … They’re an explosive offensive football team right now.”
Afterward, several UW defensive players seemed dazed by the outcome.
“I didn’t think it was going to be such a one-sided game,” said tackle Cameron Elisara. “They had a lot of energy coming out and it took a while for us to find ourselves. We’d find ourselves and then we’d lose ourselves again. … But they did a good job of maintaining a high energy level throughout the game.”
“We don’t ever want to give up that many points, so that’s disappointing,” Fellner said. “They took advantage of missed tackles and that’s what they do. They put their athletes in space and if you miss a tackle they’re pretty much gone.”
Holt and his defensive staff will use the bye week “to go back to the drawing board,” he said, adding, “I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the guys more ready to play, especially our inside guys. I thought our line kind of got shoved around a little bit. A little bit more than I thought they would.”
Still, as good as Nebraska was, Holt said, the Huskies can still be a good defensive team with better tackling and fewer mistakes. The flaws, he said, “is stuff that’s all correctable.”