By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SAN DIEGO — The last time the University of Washington faced Nebraska, Huskies quarterback Jake Locker couldn’t beat the Cornhuskers with his arm.
So they unleashed his legs Thursday night.
The senior from Ferndale rushed for 83 yards on 13 carries, the most impressive of which came when he bounced off two would-be tacklers on the way to a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter. While Locker had another unremarkable passing day — he was 6-for-18 for 71 yards — his legs were enough to carry the Huskies to a 19-7 Holiday Bowl win.
Locker, who completed just 4-of-20 passes in a 56-21 loss to Nebraska three months ago, atoned for that performance while overshadowing Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Nebraska’s redshirt freshman QB had 137 rushing yards in the September game but was held to just 23 in three quarters of action Thursday night. His final play came when UW linebacker Mason Foster sacked Martinez for a nine-yard loss, and the Nebraska quarterback limped off the field.
Locker got hurt in the game as well but missed only three plays after getting sandwiched between two Nebraska tacklers at the end of a short run in the second quarter.
Upon his return, Locker ran all over the Cornhuskers while looking as healthy as he has in months. The rib injury that limited Locker through the second half of the regular season appeared to be a thing of the past Thursday night. His 13 carries were the most Locker has had in a game this season.
Locker’s inability to pass against Nebraska was just as big of a factor as his health in the expanse of running plays. The Cornhuskers completely eliminated go-to receiver Jermaine Kearse from the game plan, while at least four of Locker’s incomplete passes were simply thrown away because no one was open.
Sark blows a gasket
A non-call late in the second quarter had UW coach Steve Sarkisian foaming — and cursing — at the mouth.
Shortly after a Locker pass sailed well in front of receiver D’Andre Goodwin along the sideline, Sarkisian began screaming at the official for a flag. Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard drove Goodwin out of bounds on the play, and both Sarkisian and Goodwin thought there should have been an illegal contact penalty.
A few seconds later, after a UW punt, Sarkisian continued to berate the officials and was caught by television cameras using language that may have made Rex Ryan blush.
Sarkisian’s tirade eventually got its desired effect, as Dennard was flagged for a pass interference penalty on Locker’s next pass a few minutes later.
Another bullet dodged
After getting away with some bold fourth-down calls down the stretch of the regular season, Sarkisian almost shot himself in the foot Thursday night.
With UW leading by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, he passed on an easy field-goal attempt from the Nebraska 1-yard line and tried to score a touchdown. Running back Chris Polk was stopped short of the goal line, resulting in no points.
Fortunately for the Huskies, a holding call in the end zone three plays later gave UW a safety and a 19-7 lead.
Polk runs away again
Polk had his sixth 100-yard game of the season Thursday night, finishing with 177.
Three of Polk’s 100-yard performances came in the final four games of the season. He finished with 1,415, the most by a UW running back since Corey Dillon went for a school-record 1,695 in 1996.
Less than four weeks after breaking his clavicle in the Apple Cup, wide receiver Cody Bruns was back in uniform and holding for kick tries Thursday night. … The Huskies pulled a trick out of their hat on their first offensive snap, running a throw-back pass from tailback Jesse Callier to Locker for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, UW scored on a Chris Polk run to take a 7-0 lead. … Callier attempted a pass out of Wildcat formation a few minutes later, only to overthrow an open Kearse near the goal line. … UW kicker Erik Folk missed two field goals from 48 yards out. The first one went wide left at the end of the first half, then he hit the left upright with 9:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. … Thursday’s win gave UW its first above-.500 season since 2002. … Polk was named the game’s offensive MVP and UW linebacker Mason Foster was named the game’s defensive MVP.