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 Sarkisians team was a rushing attack that amassed 175 yards on the ground.
What most fans remember are Jake Lockers 20.0 completion percentage and the three Taylor Martinez rushing touchdowns allowed by Washingtons 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. Its a talented defense that doesnt 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. Calliers 23-yard run was a great example of how, even if the passing attack isnt 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 Washingtons four-wide set, Nebraska was convinced a pass was on the way and put a dime (six defensive backs) defense on the field. But thats 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 Nebraskas quick defenders at the first level.
Where Nebraskas 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 couldnt match Calliers 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 doesnt eliminate Washingtons 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.