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September 17, 2011

Washington keys to victory and HOL staff predictions

Nebraska will get their third crack at Washington in the last 12 months today, as the Huskies and Huskers are set to square off in Memorial Stadium.

NU enters today's game as a 16 point favorite over Washington. There are several questions though still about this Nebraska football team that have yet to be answered through two games.

As things get closer to kickoff, here are the keys to a Husker victory, our HuskerOnline.com staff predictions, along with our celebrity pickers from KETV Channel 7 and 1620 the Zone Radio in Omaha.

Get off to a fast start

The last two weeks Nebraska's offense has failed to establish the so called "tempo" or "rhythm" offensive coordinator Tim Beck has wanted to see.

NU has gotten off to slow starts on offense and quick three and outs have been a common theme with the last two weeks in the first half. The offense needs develop more consistency today and not be so reliant on big runs and downfield passes from Taylor Martinez to get things going.

Don't let Polk get going early

In game one last year Nebraska held Washington running back Chris Polk to 55 yards on 17 carries. In the Holiday Bowl it was a completely different story as Polk ran through the Blackshirts for 177 yards on 34 carries - the most yards a running back has ever gotten on a Pelini defense the last four years.

After what Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse did last week, you have to think Washington plans to give Polk 25 to 30 carries out of the backfield. Polk is the guy that sets everything up for Steve Sarkisian.

If Polk consistently gets 4 to 6 yards per carry on early downs, it has the potential to be a very tough day for the Blackshirts.

Blitz execution

In last week's Fresno State game the Bulldogs ran a lot of max protect packages, which limited NU's blitzing.

The Huskers had zero quarterback sacks, zero tackles for loss and zero turnovers forced on defense. Just the overall execution and timing of NU's blitzes was off.

As Nebraska moves further into the season they're going to have to get better at this. Defenses have been able to see the NU blitz coming, which has limited their ability to pressure the opposing quarterback.

Be ready for the play action

What Sarkisian ultimately wants to do with Polk in the running game is to use it to set up the Huskies play action passing game.

Nebraska's safeties have been vulnerable at times this year to the play fake and have gotten out of position. All week Corey Raymond has preached technique. Too many times NU's safeties have been caught with their eyes looking in the backfield on passing plays and play actions.

The revenge factor

The overall revenge factor in this Washington vs. Nebraska game has been somewhat downplayed by NU, but let's not kid ourselves. The 19-7 setback in the Holiday Bowl left a sour taste in the mouth of everyone.

That game was the final nail in the coffin for the Shawn Watson offense and ultimately played a hand in Bo Pelini making off-season changes to his coaching staff. Pelini is extremely competitive and there's no doubt in my mind that he still thinks about how poorly his team played that night in San Diego.

Callahan's weekly predictions

There are some match-up issues in this game that concern me for Nebraska, but I think the Huskers pull away in the fourth quarter for a win. Washington's young linebackers will have trouble containing Taylor Martinez.

Nebraska 37 Washington 24
Oklahoma 31 Florida State 23
Notre Dame 37 Michigan State 31

Season Record: 3-3 overall; 3-3 vs. points

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