No. 8 Cornhuskers travel west to face Washington
It's test time for No. 8 Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers spent the first two weeks of the season cleaning up on Western Kentucky and Idaho before a sea of red, piling up impressive stats on their way to a pair of blowouts.
There will still be plenty of red inside Husky Stadium on Saturday, but facing Washington on the road is clearly the first challenge of Nebraska's season.
''We need to play well Saturday. I can tell you that. We expect to play very well Saturday, and I think we've been a pretty good road team,'' Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. ''I like our approach on the road. I like the way our team comes out and the attitude they take. This will be a different kind of challenge going farther away, but I think our guys are ready to play. Our guys are looking forward to this game.''
Saturday's intersectional matchup will help determine whether the Cornhuskers (2-0) are worthy of their lofty early season ranking. A true assessment won't arrive until Big 12 play starts next month, after Nebraska closes out its nonconference slate next week at home against South Dakota State.
That makes facing Washington (1-1) the lone opportunity for getting a true gauge of the Cornhuskers. Are they the dominant force that scored 87 points in their first two games with redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez darting around the field like Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier in years past? Is this the same team that in its last game versus a BCS conference opponent shutout Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl last December?
Or will it be the team that hasn't won a road game against a BCS conference team, outside the Big 12, since a 2007 win at Wake Forest?
''The first two opponents were good teams, but going against a team like Washington, we're really going to see how far we've come and what we're made of,'' Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick said. ''It's going to be a great challenge. If we can come out of there with a 'W,' it's going to tell a lot of things for us.''
Washington also has a streak it would like to see end and has a bit of eerie similarity on its side. Take away a 2007 win over Boise State and a handful of Pac-10 victories and the Huskies have not beaten a ranked team from the other five power conferences - plus Notre Dame - since a 2001 win over Michigan to open the season. They're 0-9 during that stretch with losses to Ohio State (twice), Oklahoma (twice) and Miami, to name a few.
The Huskies got attention with their upset of then No. 3 Southern California a year ago. A win over Nebraska could return even more respect.
''I'm not concerned about the exposure part of it,'' Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. ''That comes with wins and wins over time and consistency over time. My concern is, I just want to see us maximize an opportunity.''
It was almost a year ago to the date the Huskies upset the Trojans. In that game, USC sophomore quarterback Aaron Corp was making his first road start and struggled.
Now comes Martinez, a redshirt freshman, making his first road start. And the Cornhuskers QB is likely to make life miserable with his feet.
Washington has seen a spread offense similar to Nebraska's, and the results were telling: Oregon carved up Washington for 980 yards rushing in the last three meetings.
Nebraska enters Saturday with the third best rush offense in the country, averaging 324.5 yards in the first two games.
''They keep you on your toes. They do a great job of that,'' Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said. ''The first thing we got to do is contain their quarterback. He's the heart of their offense. They've got some great running backs. If you keep the quarterback in the pocket that is going to help us a lot. The last thing you want is him to get out into space.''
Nebraska would be wise to take the same approach with Washington quarterback Jake Locker. So far in his first two games, Locker has stayed in the pocket mostly, content to let his receivers get open downfield. Locker carried just five times last week against Syracuse.
The mobile quarterback might need to use his feet a little against the Cornhuskers. A week ago, Nebraska sacked Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle seven times and forced him into five interceptions - two of which were taken back for touchdowns.
Sarkisian hopes the experience of upsetting USC last year will keep his players from being in awe of facing another top-10 team.
''We won't be in awe of them coming out or their helmets or their fans. I think our players have been there before, and they'll feel comfortable in that environment, they'll feel comfortable in Husky Stadium,'' Sarkisian said. ''They'll feel good if we're in a tight ball game with them.''