SAN DIEGO – Nebraska couldn't overcome a sloppy showing at the Holiday Bowl Thursday night, never quite recovering from a slow start and falling 19-7 to Washington in a surprisingly one-sided rematch.
The Huskers (10-4) committed 11 penalties, turned the ball over two times and gave up a safety, hardly giving the impression that they did indeed have a strong desire to be playing in San Diego again.
Nebraska beat Washington 56-21 on Sept. 18 in Seattle earlier this year, averaging 8.2 yards per play in the blowout. But it was far from the same team Thursday.
NU, which pounded the Huskies for 383 rushing yards three months ago, managed a season-low 94 on the ground. They averaged just 2.4 yards per carry.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez limped off the field in the third quarter and never returned. By then, Nebraska was already down two scores. And sophomore Cody Green couldn't lead a comeback.
Green and the Huskers drove inside Washington territory during the final minutes, but Green's fourth down heave for Brandon Kinnie in the end fell incomplete with 3:14 left.
Really, the score could have been much worse, but Washington missed two 48-yard field goals and got stopped on two fourth down attempts. The last fourth down stop appeared to give NU some life, momentarily.
Polk was dropped for no gain at the NU 1-yard line, failing to get into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter. But Nebraska couldn't capitalize on the momentum swing. Three plays later, offensive guard Ricky Henry was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety that made it 19-7 with 13:38 left in the game. The Huskers went three-and-out on their next possession.
The Huskies (7-6), playing in its first bowl game in eight years, hadn't won a postseason game since they beat Purdue in the 2000 Rose Bowl. But they came out strong against NU Thursday, never looking back after grabbing a quick lead in the opening minutes.
Quarterback Jake Locker again struggled to find openings through the air, but he looked much more comfortable than his first outing against NU three months ago. He completed just four of his 20 pass attempts in September and was just 4 of 15 Thursday.
Locker finished with 83 rushing yards, which included a 25-yard scamper that gave the Huskies a 17-7 lead two minutes after halftime. Running back Chris Polk had 178 on the ground.
Locker did help the Huskies get off to a fast start, though. The game began on Thursday about as poorly for the Huskers as it started well in the first meeting, when NU intercepted Jake Locker on the fourth play and scored two touchdowns in its first four offensive plays.
Nebraska's opening drive ended when Washington linebacker Victor Aiyewa smashed Rex Burkhead, forcing a fumble as the sophomore I-back looked to throw on a second-down play out of the Wildcat formation near midfield.
Alameda Ta'amu, a 330-pound defensive tackle, advanced it to the 21-yard line, and freshman tailback Jesse Callier immediately hit Locker on a throwback pass for 17 yards to set up Chris Polk's 3-yard plunge.
Then in case the Huskers hadn't provided enough momentum for Washington, the next two drives Nebraska drives ended in three-and-out fashion on ill-advised, third-down shovel passes by Martinez.
The redshirt freshman crossed the line of scrimmage on the first throw, which fell incomplete. UW defensive end Hau'oli Jamora deflected the next such Martinez toss – straight back to the quarterback, who gained 1 yard on his first career reception.
Washington's Erik Folk connected on a 39-yard field goal to make it 10-0 before Martinez and the Huskers finally showed some offensive line.
Mike McNeill grabbed a 13-yard Martinez pass for a conversion across midfield. And after two straight delay-of-game penalties on third down appeared to signal disaster, Martinez broke free for 20 yards on third and 13. UW safety Nate Fellner added 15 yards on a late hit of Martinez after his longest run of the night.
The play-making QB then threaded a third-and-8 throw between a pair of Washington defenders to Kyler Reed for a 15-yard TD with 10:24 to play in the opening half. And despite all the ugliness, Nebraska appeared on track.
Think again. The Blackshirts did their part, stopping UW on a fourth-and-1 run by Polk after Locker left temporarily following a shot to the head by NU safety Austin Cassidy.
But Fellner intercepted Martinez on a up-for-grabs throw to Niles Paul. The next Nebraska possession ended as Jamora sacked Martinez for a 13-yard loss.
Washington drove to the NU 31 in the final seconds of the half, but Folk's 48-yard attempt drifted wide left.
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• Video: Sights and sounds from the Holiday Bowl:
• Video: NU's Bo Pelini after the Holiday Bowl:
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• One final mystery for Huskers to solve
• Pelini sees similarities in bowl opponent
• Shatel: Finding intrigue in a bummer bowl
• Holiday Bowl: 2-minute drill
• Notes: Husker Fahie feels at home on naval base
• Holiday Bowl: Key matchup
• Holiday Bowl: Three things to watch
• Holiday Bowl: Statistics leaders
• Film rat Gomes makes an impact for Huskers
• Notes: Pelini defends Martinez
• History shows first win doesn't guarantee two
• Shatel: No disguises for Osborne
• Criticism of Watson is unfair, Green says
• Notes: Thankful Paul cleared for return
• Shatel: If call comes for Watson, the time is ripe
• Offensive repeat not certain for NU
• Locker seeks to make amends
• Notes: NU prepares for slick field
• To beat NU, Washington has one major task: ‘Stop the run'
• Huskers touch down, set sights on UW
• Notes: Huskies 2, Huskers 0 (in number of practices)
• Lee remains positive during final stretch
• Shatel: Is Nebraska ‘back'? It can't mail the bowl in