SAN DIEGO - Jake Locker can head off to the NFL now, having secured a win for the Washington Huskies in his last college game.
Locker bounced back from an injury he said looked worse than it was, scoring on a 25-yard run in the third quarter to help Washington to a 19-7 victory over punchless No. 17 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday night.
"This is the experience that I came back for," said Locker, who passed up the chance to enter the NFL draft last spring in order to come back for his senior season. "It's been some frustrating years, but to go out this way and see this program off this way, I'm going to be their biggest fan from here on out. Every Saturday, I'm going to be tuning in to watch the Huskies play. I'm proud to be part of this program."
The Huskies were 0-12 in 2008 before Steve Sarkisian took over as coach.
"This is why he came back," Sarkisian said about Locker. "The reality is, money is money, but these experiences last a lifetime. I'm happy for him. He has a huge heart. He's a humble young man."
Tailback Chris Polk ran for 177 yards and a score as the Huskies (7-6) avenged a 56-21 loss to the Huskers (10-4) in Seattle on Sept. 18. The Cornhuskers piled up 533 yards of total offense in that game, including 383 rushing.
While Washington was a winner in its first bowl game since 2002, the Huskers came out flat in their second straight Holiday Bowl appearance. They were manhandled on both sides of the line and imploded under 12 penalties for 102 yards.
Washington outgained Nebraska 340 yards to 189, including 268 to 91 rushing.
"We just ran right at 'em," Polk said. "We knew we could win if we ran the way we know how to run. They couldn't stop it. We whupped a team that didn't respect us."
Locker capped the opening drive of the second half with a 25-yard scoring run to give Washington a 17-7 lead. He faked a handoff and then ran right, bouncing off a defender and staying on his feet to score.
Locker ran 13 times for 83 yards. Polk had 34 carries."We were a lot more confident and it showed tonight," Locker said.
"We're moving in the right direction," Sarkisian said.
Locker was shaken up in the second quarter when he scrambled, slid headfirst and was hit helmet-to-helmet by Nebraska safety Austin Cassidy. Locker was on the ground for a few minutes before walking off on his own. He was replaced by Keith Price for the rest of the series, which ended when a fourth-down run by Polk was stuffed.
Locker returned for the next series after safety Nate Fellner intercepted Taylor Martinez.
"It probably looked worse than it really was," he said. "My helmet hit my nose and it was numb. I couldn't open my eyes. They asked me what was wrong, and I said, 'I can't see.' I couldn't feel my helmet down over my eyes. Everything was black."
The Huskies had to win their final three regular-season games to become bowl eligible. They got their first win in four trips to the Holiday Bowl.
Nebraska was coming off a 23-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game in which it blew a 17-point lead.
"I'm embarrassed," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I obviously didn't get them ready to play. I thought we were ready to play. I liked our plan. We didn't execute very well. Obviously we didn't play our best football. It starts with me."
Martinez limped off the field in the third quarter and was replaced by Cody Green, who had a nice scramble deep in his own territory. But guard Ricky Henry was called for holding in the end zone for a safety, giving Washington a 19-7 lead.
Martinez missed the regular-season finale against Colorado because of injuries to his right ankle and left foot.
Nebraska played as bad a first half as possible and trailed just 10-7 at halftime.
The Huskers fumbled twice on the game's opening drive, once by Martinez as he was sacked, which was recovered by guard Keith Williams. Four plays later, Rex Burkhead took a direct snap, fumbled as he was hit by Victor Aiyewa, with Washington's Alameda Ta'amu recovering and returning it 14 yards to the Nebraska 21.
Polk scored three plays later, running in untouched from the 3.
The Huskies made it 10-0 on Erik Folk's 39-yard field goal.
The Huskers came back and salvaged a drive on which they were whistled for consecutive delay-of-game penalties. Martinez gained 20 yards on a keeper on third-and-13, and a late hit out of bounds by Nate Fellner gave the Huskers the ball at the 17. Three plays later, Martinez threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed to pull to 10-7.
Folk was wide left on a 48-yard field goal try 2 seconds before halftime.