In the face of the last-meeting annihilation, the University of Washington defense will grab onto any reason pointing that what happened the first time against Nebraska won’t repeat itself Dec. 30 in the Holiday Bowl.
In that 56-21 shellacking, the Cornhuskers rolled up 533 yards – 383 on the ground. Quarterback Taylor Martinez (137 rushing yards) led a trio of Nebraska ball-carriers who went over 100 yards that day.
So, the while the usual “buzz” words have come in during Huskies’ practices this week – gap integrity, vast improvement, chip on the shoulder – the one factor UW defenders have all pointed to as a possible difference-maker was one of its missing pieces.
Middle linebacker Cort Dennison.
In the middle of that third week – mid-September – Dennison was a regular participant in practice who got rattled during a team-session play so violently, he started vomiting in the locker room.
The team’s medical staff conclued that the junior from Salt Lake City, Utah had suffered a concussion. He was out.
“I took a bunch of (post-concussion) tests and failed all the tests,” Dennison said. “I knew on Saturday (I was out). I talked with one of the doctors and he said there was no way I could go.”
True freshman Garret Gilliland got his first career start instead, under the most stressful and testing circumstances.
“I thought it was a big honor, and it was a big challenge for me,” Gilliland said. “It was my first game against, whatever, the No. 10 (actually No. 8 team) in the nation. I just remember going out there, taking a deep breath and just letting it out. I think after the first series, I just played football and adjusted to it.”
Unfortunately so did Martinez and the Nebraska offense, which found little resistence all afternoon in moving the ball.
“I always think I can make a difference. I thought Garret, as a freshman in his first start … did a great job. But obviously I’m one of the leaders of this defense, and I think I definitely could have helped out,” Dennison said.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world having to sit on the sidelines for that first game, especially when you’re a competitor. Having a chance to go against them this time, it’s a great feeling and I’m excited to do it.”
Tidbits from practice Sunday:
* After UW coach Steve Sarkisian took a friend to Sea-Tac Airport earlier in the morning, he thought the conditions were so fair, he moved the scheduled 10 a.m. practice outdoors to Husky Stadium.
* Defensive tackle Chris Robinson (knee) continued to be held out after his knee swelled up Saturday.
* Safety Sean Parker (shoulder) is still getting work, but has not been cleared to return to full contact. Sarkisian did not sound optimistic that the true freshman would return for the bowl game.
* Defensive end Talia Crichton (knee) continues to add more to his plate as he works his way back from mid-October surgery.