Updated

We all had this Nebraska football team pegged, geniuses that we are.

Another fast and ferocious Husker defense would prop up a youthful and developing offense for as long as necessary.

We began to wonder about that notion last week when Fresno State racked up 444 yards against the Blackshirts.

The notion vanished in the mist Saturday as 11th-ranked Nebraska defeated Washington 51-38 before 85,110 fans at Memorial Stadium, despite allowing 420 yards of offense overall and 21 points in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps Nebraska (3-0) can just win high-scoring track meets in the Big Ten.

I'm joking. At least I think I'm joking.

Don't be too hard on the defense. Chalk up some of the late letdown to human nature, some of it to conservative strategy. After all, Nebraska led 37-17 after its explosive third quarter.

What's more, the Huskers sorely miss senior lockdown cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. He's 95 percent recovered from a pulled leg muscle suffered in mid-August, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said Saturday. NU coaches and medical staff decided Dennard, a ferocious and feisty competitor, needed one more week of rest, Pelini said. Which means we could see him this coming Saturday at Wyoming.

That would make sense. Give Dennard a game to settle in before the start of Big Ten play Oct. 1 at Wisconsin.

Ah, Wisconsin. Dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson has the Badgers (3-0) rolling. He'll present much more of a challenge than Washington sophomore Keith Price. Russell is a better thrower than Price and might even be a better runner. Not that Price didn't cause Nebraska headaches. He was 21-for-37 passing for 274 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions.

Junior tailback Chris Polk rushed 22 times for 130 yards and was not once tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

How much of a difference will Dennard make? Tune in Oct. 1.

If the defense continues to falter, Nebraska fans can sit back and enjoy the Huskers' offensive fireworks.

I'm exaggerating. At least I think I'm exaggerating.

This much is certain: Tim Beck's crew enjoyed a nice growth spurt Saturday. Stop the presses: The offensive line controlled the trenches much of the day against a formidable front four. Barney Cotton's boys found a rhythm -- a pounding, harsh rhythm. Unlike last week, NU reeled off long scoring drives, yet still produced plenty of big plays.

Let's hold off on proclaiming Nebraska an offensive juggernaut. It's one game. But an identity is coming into focus. Beck has been saying since spring Nebraska would attack where the defense isn't. It helps that NU has tailored its no-huddle play-calling system to get to the best play available. It's the "glance" offense -- you see the players looking over to the sideline for the best play against a certain look.

Nebraska's identity on offense just may be its attacking nature and versatility. Beck's offense is creative. Thing is, creativity and being multiple require patience. Moving parts must work together, in unison. Patience is especially important with so many freshmen involved.

I'm sure Husker fans will be extremely patient.

"You have to have the courage to be patient," NU running backs coach Ron Brown said. "People are breathing down your throat -- the media, fans. You just have to stay the course sometimes and say, 'Look, we're going to gut this out.'

"Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better." 

It got better against Washington.

Nebraska turned up the tempo in the first half, running its no-huddle system faster than it had in the first two games.

"Our kids at halftime said, 'Coach, these guys our tired,'" Brown said.

Put it on our backs, the O-line said.

Put it on our backs, the tight ends said.

"We said, 'Look, let's get after them. Let's keep the tempo going,'" Brown said. "They had trouble with a couple play-action passes. So we just started to get after them with things we knew were good with a very high tempo."

Nebraska seized control with a 14-0 flurry in a nine-second span in the third quarter to go up 34-17. The Huskies went three-and-out on their opening possession. On the ensuing punt, Steve Sarkisian's squad handed NU 20 yards with a punt-catching interference and a sideline penalty.

Taylor Martinez then led a nine-play, 56-yard touchdown drive. He was excellent during the march. Line play was stellar. Cotton may have found something with Jeremiah Sirles and Marcel Jones at tackle and Brandon Thompson and Spencer Long at guard. Center Mike Caputo is a mainstay, of course, and he was at his best against 6-foot-3, 330-pound Alameda Ta'amu.

Washington fumbled the ensuing kickoff at its 1-yard line, Nebraska turned the gaffe into a touchdown, and the place was rocking.

The Husker defense, though, dampened the mood with its late letdown.

Issues in the secondary were glaring. Nebraska is young at the cornerback and nickel spots. It showed again.

"It's a seasoning process," Carl Pelini said. "I'd like those guys to be more aggressive, to play with more confidence. The fact they're not right now is understandable."

In the final analysis, though, Pelini felt the defense took a step forward.

"We played better this week than last week," he said. "There was a point in that game (vs. Washington), especially in the second quarter and third quarter, when we really showed the type of defense we can be.

"And then we let down a little bit at the end, which is disappointing to me."

No problem. The defense can lean on the offense, after all.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.