SAN DIEGO — After adopting the role of Droopy Dogs in the first game against Nebraska, Washington’s defensive line evolved into the Fantastic Four.
Game 1: 383 rushing yards for Nebraska.
After having three 100-plus-yard rushers the first time, the entire Nebraska team could not reach the 100 in the Holiday Bowl. Considering Washington shuffled Everette Thompson to the inside, then did patchwork on the ends, even putting Mason Foster there at times, it was the most surprising turn in the rematch.
“We were physical at the point of attack,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We thought if we could continue to establish ourselves at the line of scrimmage, that could set the stage for our backers and our secondary.”
The push from Washington’s heaviest defender, Ta’amu, made a startling difference. He blamed himself for much of what happened in the first game. Leading up to the game, he spoke of gap integrity, staying in his lane. He and teammates did that. Ta’amu, genial as they come, was irritated.
“As a D line, we were out to prove everybody wrong,” Ta’amu said. “Everybody asked me the same old questions and it pumped me and the D line up a lot.”
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt pointed out how thin Washington has been at defensive line all year. They sat on two promising freshmen, Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson, redshirting each. Injuries mounted. That left Holt with a jumbled group, but no sympathy.
“Whoever’s healthy, they’ll end up playing,” Holt said. “And my expectation level is they need to play to the level of guys that are hurt.”
Washington recorded five sacks. Knocked Nebraska starting quarterback Taylor Martinez around and out. Forced six punts.
“I think in that first game we were a little rattled and got out of our assignments,” linebacker Cort Dennison said “We had great game plan. When you stick to that and play hard, good things happen.”
Afterward, Ta’amu’s anger was replaced with pleasure.
“I can’t explain the joy I feel.”