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December 30, 2010

Five key questions about the Holiday Bowl

The Washington Huskies are two-touchdown underdogs to the 17th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in tonight's Holiday Bowl (7 p.m., Pacific time, ESPN). Nebraska roughed up Washington, 56-21, in Seattle in September. Does Washington (6-6), riding a three-game win streak and in its first bowl game since 2002, have any shot against Nebraska (10-3)?

Here are five key questions about tonight's game:

1. Will Jake Locker put all of this negative talk to rest?

Jake Locker's NFL draft status began to fall into question largely after his woeful performance against Nebraska in September when he was 4 of 20 for 71 yards. He's had to battle rib and thigh injuries since then but has played better each week as he's healed. The stars must align just right for Locker to excel tonight, including top performances from young offensive linemen and receivers. A big effort by running back Chris Polk could help take the heat off of Locker.

2. Will Washington's young defensive front buckle against Nebraska's power rushing attack?

Washington's defensive front is its most vulnerable area in this game. Nebraska rushed for 383 yards and six touchdowns, including three by quarterback Taylor Martinez, in its previous meeting, however the Huskies were missing a key player in linebacker Cort Dennison. Washington's defensive front has shown vast improvement since the Oregon game but now has to go without tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who's out with an injury. True freshman Sione Potoa'e makes his third start of the season.

3. In a game of emotion, do the Huskies have enough of it to make a difference?

Emotion can be a good and bad thing in football. No question, the Huskies will be fired up to make amends from September's embarrassing loss to the Cornhuskers and want to make a strong impression in their first bowl game in eight years. Nebraska claims to be fired up for the game, but it's clear there was major disappointment for not reaching a BCS bowl.

4. How much will Nebraska's absences on defense help the Huskies?

The Huskies will take all the breaks they can get. They got two when two Nebraska defenders, tackle Baker Steinkuhler and safety Rickey Thenarse, were suspended from the Holiday Bowl for DUI arrests this month. For the Huskies' freshman offensive linemen, Colin Porter and Erik Kohler, the loss of Steinkuhler is a positive but his replacement, Terrence Moore, had four tackles against the Huskies earlier this season.

5. Will Washington's receivers be able get open against Nebraska's vaunted secondary?

One of Nebraska's biggest strengths is its physical defensive secondary, led by All-American senior cornerback Prince Amukamara. Washington's receivers are being asked to be more physical to be able to shake free and get open. Huskies junior Jermaine Kearse gets a chance to showcase his talent against the best, which could improve his status should he declare for the NFL draft.


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