This is the sixth entry in an ongoing series between Ryan Priest and Alex Hyres. Each week, we'll look at the matchup between Washington and their opponent, give predictions for the game's outcome, and hopefully have a little fun along the way. Up this week is Stanford. Our previous chats can be found here: Boise State, Illinois, Idaho State, Arizona, Stanford.
Ryan: Last week, I predicted that Washington would lose a closely contested, hard-fought game. Never before have I been so sorry to be right.
I've seen the word "heartbreaking" thrown out more times than I can count to describe Washington's 28-31 loss to Stanford, yet I can't think of a better word to sum up my feelings about Saturday's contest. How else do you talk about a game in which Washington's resurgent offense rolled 489 yards on one of the nation's top defenses for the past several seasons, and ended on an official's dubious overturning of a fourth-and-ten pass play that was ruled a catch on the field?
As easy as it is to focus on that final series as the reason why UW isn't a top-10 team with a 5-0 record today, including Austin Seferian-Jenkins' critical third-down drop, the Huskies lost this game for two reasons: penalties and special-teams miscues.
Washington game into Saturday's game as the most penalized team in the nation, and did nothing but shoot themselves in the foot against a legitimate top-five opponent on the road by accruing 10 penalties for 89 yards, including an absurd turn in the first quarter in which the Huskies committed penalties on three consecutive plays to turn a second-and-eight into a fourth-and-35. Coupled with Ty Montgomery's returns of 99 yards for a touchdown and a 68 yard return to set up Stanford's offense for an easy score, UW's self-inflicted setbacks are the reason that this game was a close loss instead of a blowout win against a top-five team.
That being said, considering how Washington has played on the road against quality opponents in years past, I could scarcely be happier with the way that the Dawgs hung with an elite opponent away from the confines of Husky Stadium. In particular, the defense showed itself to be the real deal by holding Stanford's offense to just 279 yards, and Kevin Hogan to a QBR of 37.6, according to ESPN. If Washington can clean up their mistakes and play inspired football to come away with a win against the Ducks this weekend, they won't be out of the Rose Bowl race by any stretch of the imagination.
How has your impression of this team changed following Saturday's heartbreaking (yeah, I said it) loss?
Alex: My impression of this Husky team changed more based on this game than the previous four games combined—in a positive way. While some may find that hard to believe considering that the Huskies lost the game, I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives from this game.
The negatives from this game center around the special teams play and penalties. Nothing could have possibly killed my pre-game buzz more than the kick return touchdown by Ty Montgomery. There were still too many penalties. However, unlike an offense without playmakers or a defense lacking physicality, both of those aforementioned problems are redeemable during this season.
A conversation of the positives from this game has to begin with Keith Price. Outside of a tipped interception near the goal line during the third quarter—three Sankey runs leading to a field goal would have sufficed, Sarkisian—Keith Price showed mettle and grit that reminded me of his quarterback coach. Playing through a hurt thumb on his throwing hand, Price managed the offense efficiently and threw the ball well throughout. Price will be remembered as a Husky Legend not just for the gaudy numbers he has compiled over the past three seasons but also for his mental toughness.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Bishop Sankey showed off his exceptional vision, patience, and play-making ability en route to 125 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Sankey—even against the best of competition—continues to produce. The only concern that Husky fans should have about their running game in the future is whether Sankey leaves school early for the NFL Draft.
Though the score will not reflect their dominant play, one look at the statistics from this game reveals just how well the defense played. Other than the play of Ty Montgomery, the defense handled a Stanford offense that looked absolutely dominant against lesser foes such as Washington State and Arizona State. Kevin Hogan, outside of the laser beam he threw to Montgomery to end the first half, looked less like one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and more like Josh Nunes. The 3rd-and-one stop during the 4th quarter epitomized the Husky defense's resurgence.
How will the defense stop or even contain Oregon Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota?
Ryan: I'll begin my answer with an observation: Perhaps no defense in the country has a task ahead of them as unenviable as Washington, which must transition in seven days from defending one of the nation's most physical offenses to one of the nation's fastest.
The first step in slowing down Oregon will be making them one-dimensional by taking away their ability to distribute the ball through the air. Washington's pass defense has been nearly without equal this season, allowing just 146.4 yards per game and two touchdowns against seven interceptions. Keeping up those gaudy numbers will be the defensive secondary's first task on Saturday. If they can accomplish that, Keith Heyward will have earned the right to name his salary, in my opinion.
Of course, even a one-dimensional Oregon is a very dangerous team. You don't recruit Doak Walker Award winners and finalists like LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas without a polished run game, and Oregon's patented inside zone that they run to perfection has destroyed their competition in previous years, including the Huskies on more than one occasion. Washington showed a great ability to corral Kevin Hogan and keep him from escaping the pocket to make plays with his legs, and it will be up to Hau'oli Kikaha, Cory Littleton and Josh Shirley to repeat that performance just seven days after the physically draining Stanford contest against what may just be the best football player in America. Frankly, I don't know if they're up to the task, and that's not a knock, because I don't know if any collegiate defensive line in America would be up to that task.
To be honest, though, I'm worried that Oregon won't have to do much offensively, because if our kickoff coverage unit plays like it did against Stanford, Oregon's offense won't need to go very far. In my view, the Huskies won't stand a chance in this contest unless Cameron Van Winkle (or whomever) is able to boot the ball out of the end zone, and take Oregon's returners out of the game.
Alex: The Husky offense needs to start the game in a fury and put the Duck defense on its heels. Oregon has spent much, if not all, of the season playing from ahead. They have faced little adversity since losing to the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium last November. The Huskies need to impose some adversity on the Ducks if they are going to have a chance in this game.
If the Huskies are able to jump out to an early lead, they will be able to dictate the tempo. Teams struggle against Oregon because the Ducks impose their tempo on them right from the start of the game. Though the Huskies hope to play at a similar tempo, it's easier to make play calls on both sides of the ball if you are ahead. By jumping out to an early lead, the Huskies may be able to lean on Sankey to control the clock and keep the Ducks offense off the field.
Additionally, we don't know how this Duck team will respond to playing from behind. Even a team like the Ducks, who seemingly recruit the same types of players—fast, faster, and fastest—don't know the personality of their team until they play the games. Though the Ducks have played almost half the season, they have yet to find out what type of character this team has when it faces adversity. The Huskies may benefit from finding out this character by starting fast on offense.
Ryan: Alright, it's prediction time. As well as Washington's defense has played this year, I think that this is the game in which they come back down to earth. The Ducks are built to score points, and score a lot of them—and as much as I'd like to see a shutout on Saturday, I have to admit that seriously entertaining such a possibility is foolish.
This game will come down to Washington's ability to win the turnover and field position battles. Unfortunately, the special teams performance of last week has given me little reason to believe that UW will be able to accomplish the latter. De'Anthony Thomas (if he plays) and Bralon Addison are too talented in the kick and punt return games to not get their yards, and as much as Washington schemes to take them out of the game, they won't remove them from the equation entirely.
Keith Price will have to lead the entire offense to a virtually flawless performance, the defense will have to create opportune turnovers, and Oregon quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota will have to make at least a few crucial mistakes. Ultimately, I think that's too tall of an order to pull off, and I think the game ends Washington 34, Oregon 45.
Alex: I feel confident in saying that this will be the most challenging game that the Huskies will play all season—even if they manage to win the Pac-12 North and play in the Pac-12 Championship. Oregon has the full complement of playmakers on both sides of the ball, with a coaching staff that knows how to best use them due to an unmatched continuity over the past few years.
For far too long— won't even name the number of consecutive Duck wins—the Ducks have worn out the Huskies over the course of the game and coasted to double-digit victories.
This game will be different than years past because the Huskies are better conditioned. This game will be different than years past because the Huskies have better coaches calling the game. This game will be different than years past because the Huskies have better athletes on both sides of the ball. This game will be different than years past because the Huskies have the confidence that they can play with a team of this caliber.