LINCOLN, Neb. – Last year's embarrassing Holiday Bowl loss to Washington showed 11th-ranked Nebraska what happens when a team isn't ready to play.
Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini hopes last week's closer-than-expected win over Fresno State reinforced the lesson because Washington (2-0) is visiting Saturday for the third game between the teams in 364 days.
"I think every now and then you need to get smacked in the face and get a wakeup call," Pelini said. "When people are telling you how good you are, sometimes you need a reality check. In this world, you get humbled in a hurry. Last week, we were humbled."
Nebraska (2-0) beat Fresno State 42-29, but the four-touchdown underdog rolled up 444 yards of total offense and Robbie Rouse ran for 169 for the fourth-most rushing yards by an opposing back at 88-year-old Memorial Stadium.
Rouse's performance was reminiscent of Chris Polk's at the Holiday Bowl. Polk gashed the Huskers for 177 yards in Washington's 19-7 win, and he'll be a big part of the game plan again Saturday after averaging 116 yards through two games.
"We have to be salty against him," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez burst onto the national scene as a freshman last September when he ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 150 yards and another score in a 56-21 win over the Huskies in Seattle.
The rematch in the Holiday Bowl proved to be a trap game for Nebraska.
The Huskers were favored by two touchdowns after losses in two of their previous three games, including the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma.
Washington, meanwhile, was on a high after rolling off three straight wins to become bowl eligible.
Though 2011 first-round draft pick Jake Locker couldn't get anything going passing for the Huskies, Nebraska couldn't find an answer for Polk. Martinez, who played with toe and ankle injuries the second half of the season, was sacked four times and the Huskers generated only 156 yards.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said there was nothing complicated about why his team was able to avenge the September loss.
"Just overall, scheme-wise, we were a better football team," he said. "We found our identity a bit, running the ball, playing defense. I just thought we played better. And we're continually getting better.
"I don't think it's a fluke that we're on a six-game winning streak right now."
The Huskies needed an interception in the last minute to secure a 30-27 win over FCS Eastern Washington in their opener, and last week they got four touchdown passes from Keith Price on their way to a 40-32 win over Hawaii.
But Washington has lost 13 of 14 road games against Top 25 opponents.
"It's nothing against Nebraska and their fans, but this trip is really more about us than them," Sarkisian said. "It's our ability to go on the road, regardless of the opponent, and do this thing."
Price said he's not worried about playing in the "Sea of Red" at Memorial Stadium. Last year he started in place of an injured Locker against top-ranked Oregon last year at the famously loud Autzen Stadium.
"I'm not worried about the fans or anything," he said. "I don't even hear it. It's about me staying focused and staying locked in and making sure the offense is locked in."
Nebraska has a lot to prove to itself as it draws closer to the start of its first Big Ten schedule Oct. 1 at No. 7 Wisconsin.
The Huskers need stronger play from their offensive line and more involvement from I-back Rex Burkhead. The defense needs to improve against the run and get more pressure on the quarterback after recording no sacks on 41 pass plays last week.
Nebraska safety Austin Cassidy said he and his teammates are motivated by the bowl loss.
"That loss hurt a lot," he said, "so I know everyone's excited to play Washington again. They're a good team. They were a good team last year. I'm sure especially after they saw our game last week, they'll be ready to bring it on Saturday."
Bo Pelini hopes his team is ready, too.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what people say you are, or what you are supposed to be, you have to put it out there," he said. "I don't care if you're a projected All-American or if you're a first-year guy. You have to go out there and play. That's what makes this game great. You're only as good as your last snap. Hopefully our guys learned that."