BY Doug Farrar 08:58AM 12/28/2010

Xs-and-Os: Rush is key to UW upset

Fans forget Huskies actually ran respectably in first Huskers match

Washington Huskies running back Jesse Callier carried 10 times for 57 yards versus Nebraska Sept. 18. (Drew Sellers / Sportspress Northwest)

When the Washington Huskies found themselves outfought in Week 3 against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a 56-21 debacle, one of the things that did go right for Steve Sarkisian’s team was a rushing attack that amassed 175 yards on the ground.

What most fans remember are Jake Locker’s 20.0 completion percentage and the three Taylor Martinez rushing touchdowns allowed by Washington’s inconsistent defense. But the run game, led by Chris Polk and Jesse Callier (with a heavy dose of Locker, who led the team with 59 rushing yards) was the primary reason the Huskies were still in the game in the second quarter before everything fell apart.

If the Huskies are to have any hope of a Holiday Bowl upset, they must repeat and enhance their strong rushing efforts in that game, and the key will be the one-cut-and-go style that Callier brought to the game. Nebraska is generally known for stout run defense, but the ‘Huskers finished 40th in Division I with 3.66 yards per carry allowed. Teams ran on them for just over 144 yards per game. It’s a talented defense that doesn’t throw a lot of different looks at opposing offenses.

One drive in particular typified the approach the Huskies must take if they wish to pull this off – a drive that started with 10:45 left in the first quarter, and consisted of one pass for 10 yards, and 10 runs for 70. Callier’s 23-yard run was a great example of how, even if the passing attack isn’t working, a defense can be spread  out with formation looks and the threat of match-up advantages. One play after a play-action rollout left by Locker to Marlion Barnett and with the Huskies already down 14-0, the ‘Huskers were looking pass all the way on first-and-10 from the Washington 30-yard line, and Sark took advantage.

Against Washington’s four-wide set, Nebraska was convinced a pass was on the way and put a dime (six defensive backs) defense on the field. But that’s not why they were vulnerable to the run; Callier got his 23-yard run because of two great blocks and one bad read. Right tackle Cody Habben (71) and right guard Ryan Tolar (65) established a perfect lane for Callier to crash through, and Callier was quick enough to the hole to elude Nebraska’s quick defenders at the first level.

Where Nebraska’s defense fell apart was on the inexplicable run fit executed by linebacker Lavonte David (4). When Callier blasted outside, David hesitated over center, just long enough for Callier to move to the second level before David recovered and helped to give chase.

Defensive back DeJon Gomes (7) tried his best to catch up to Callier, but coming from the other side of the field as he did, he couldn’t match Callier’s burst. It was cornerback Prince Amukamara (21), who was on the defensive left side and eluded a block, who finally tagged Callier just enough to get him to go out of bounds.

While Nebraska is the better team in this game, that doesn’t eliminate Washington’s chances; it just means that the Huskies have to keep the mistakes to a minimum. They must do that better than ever. The key to everything lies with a ground attack.


  • OneGuywithCommonSense

    Nice analysis. It would be one of the all time upsets if the Dawgs are able to pull it off. The running game has been to only consistent component of the offense this season, so if they keep it going and Jake can get anything going, a W might be possible.

  • Frank

    All of this said, it’s gotta be the defense, right?
    Our undersized, overmatched(?) d-line has gotta find a way to stop that Cornhusker running game.

    I really hope Nick Holt can come up with some schemes and concepts to stop their run game, but that’s tough to imagine…

  • Patrick

    Husker fan here:
    1. If there are four WR’s on the field, we will be in a dime defense every time. Our defensive set is predicated on the offense’s personnel, not on what we think you’re going to do.

    2. Our base defense has 2 linebackers and 3 cornerbacks, even when you have two running backs. So you should be able have some success running, as indicated by Nebraska being 40th in rush per yard defense (as you indicated).

    3. Our defensive philosophy is that you’re not good enough or smart enough to run the ball for four quarters. When I say “you”, I mean all opposing teams, not just Washington. Not good enough: At some point it’ll be 3rd and 12 and you’ll pass. Or you’ll get to 3rd and 3 and not pick up the first down. Not smart enough: Or it’ll be 2nd and 1 and your offensive coordinator will outsmart himself and call a pass – you’ll get sacked and suddenly it’s 3rd and 8. Not smart enough: If you do get down by 10 to 14 points, most coordinators panic and switch to pass-pass-pass-punt mode. Just calm down, get a few first downs, punt, play field position, and climb back in the game. Look at what Oklahoma did to us a few weeks ago – they were down 17 – 0 in the second period. They didn’t panic, came back, and beat us.

    4. Your only hope is to call the double-move pass plays. Our aggressive coverage is ripe for being taken advantage of. Of course, the downside is that your QB needs enough time for that play to develop, which doesn’t seem likely to me.

  • oregon_husker

    The breakdown mentioned LB David being out of position. This kid transferred from a JC this year, and after 2 LB’s went out with injuries before the first game, David got the start. Even though he massed double digit tackles game after game, including a 20 tackle effort, Coach Pelini kept reiterating that David had a long ways to go because of making incorrect reads. The 23 yd Collier run was a prime example.
    All of that said, this article is missing a huge component. The simple fact that David is a beast and he won’t be making read mistakes any more. He is an All-American, as a junior, and will be blowing up the UW running game all night long.
    However, I think NU will have a harder time scoring against UW than the first go around because Martinez has a hurt body and a hurt psyche. The kid needs to get his confidence and his wheels back. He was indecisive in the B12 championship game. Locker will have a better game, and I believe he will do it with his legs. NU kills opposing passers. However, NU has been killed time and time again against running QBs (Texas, VT, Iowa St).
    NU 33, WU 13.

  • oliner

    I enjoyed all the thoughtful analysis above. Those guys have more insight than I do. I would like to add something I think is key (and quite simple): if Washington is to stop Nebraska, they need to WRAP UP when they tackle. It seemed to me that they had Neb stopped several times last game, only to let the runner escape. I love those Huskies and recall other big upsets from the past (e.g. the first Don James Rosebowl). They could do it. Finally, I salute the Huskers as a classy team with classy fans. This should be a fun game.

  • RedRocks

    Kind of cool, we get Huskies vs Huskers three times in twelve months. I’m not looking too deep here but expect to see heart and desire on both sides and believe in the ‘Any given Sunday’ or saturday or thursday rule.
    The most promising factor for we the corn is that we are coming off a loss. A bad one. A blew a 17 zip lead one. Man ….peeing your pants is less embarrassing.