So here we are with gameday fast approaching - we've taken a look at Oregon's offense , we've looked at Oregon's defense, we've looked at their special teams, we've previewed the game, we've even chatted with the folks at ATQ about the match-up - now it's time to make our prediction.
I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this, and actually make three predictions: A "best-case" scenario, a "worst-case" scenario, and finally my prediction of what I think is most likely to happen. I should note that, while I'm obviously a Husky homer, my goal is to be as objective about these predictions as possible. On to the projections!
Best-case scenario: The length and speed on the Husky defense pays dividends for new DC Justin Wilcox, and a group that is finally starting to develop some quality depth allows him to rotate liberally and keep everyone fresh for 4 quarters. Danny Shelton occupies the middle and allows Andrew Hudson, Pio Vatuvei, Talia Crichton and Josh Shirley the one on one opportunities to get penetration into the backfield and disrupt the Oregon offense. Wilcox rolls the dice and leaves his corners in one on one coverage while bringing pressure with his safeties, and Desmond Trufant and Marcus Peters are up to the task. Well-disguised blitzing from all over the field pressures RS-Fr QB Marcus Mariota into making mistakes and the defense capitalizes on these opportunities, generating 4 turnovers and returning one of them for a TD while setting up good field position off the other three. Travis Feeney, John Timu, Shaq Thompson and Sean Parker play disciplined, sound football and make needed open field tackles to prevent explosive plays by Oregon's offense.
On special teams, Marvin Hall finally breaks off a punt return for a TD after coming thisclose in previous weeks, and Travis Coons and the coverage team do an excellent job of keeping D'Anthony Thomas bottled up.
Keith Price makes enough plays with his feet to avoid sacks and extend plays to find Kasen Williams downfield, and the O-line blocks well enough to allow Bishop Sankey to gash the Duck defense and sustain drives.
The Ducks are too explosive to be completely shut down, but the UW defense slows them down just enough and generates the turnovers needed to make the offense's job easier, and combined with a big play on special teams, the Huskies shock the Autzen faithful and end the 8-game losing streak as they win 27-24.
Worst-case scenario: While the composition of the Husky defense is being built to better defend the growing number of spread offenses in the conference, they are still a fairly young bunch and not yet ready to deal with the high-octane Oregon version of the spread. Lack of push at the line of scrimmage puts the onus on the 2nd level to make plays downfield, and the young guys make young mistakes and miss too many tackles and take too many bad angles, resulting in long runs by Kenjon Barner and Thomas. Wilcox's gamble to leave Duck WR's in man coverage with no safety help backfires as Mariota, with all day to throw, finds open receivers for big gains.
DAT also burns the Huskies on special teams with a punt return for a TD and multiple long kickoff returns, and the Oregon kicking team catches the Huskies sleeping multiple times for 2-pt conversions and block a punt when Coons bobbles a snap.
The patch-work Husky OL is abused by the Duck pass-rush and Price is sacked multiple times until finally being pulled after taking too many hits. The Oregon corners jam Kasen all day and don't allow him to break free on bubble screens or quick hitches, and Sankey is bottled up and tackled for loss several times, killing drives.
All the bad vibes from the LSU game that were wiped away by the Stanford win come back in spades as the Ducks play their best game of the season and the Huskies once again suffer a major let-down after a big win and are rolled, losing 51-10
Most-likely scenario: The Husky defense plays with good fundamentals and effort, but fatigue creeps in and youth is exposed by the 3rd quarter as Oregon starts hitting some big plays. A mistake by Mariota in the first half leads to some early momentum for the Huskies, and a smart gameplan well-executed by Price in the first half gives the offense some confidence going into half-time. But Aliotti makes adjustments, and the Duck pass rush proves too much for our OL and forces mistakes. The Huskies give a good effort and keep the game in doubt well into the 3rd quarter, but in the end the Ducks pull away to win their 9th straight in the series.
Oregon 38, Washington 20