Oregon pops into Husky Stadium on Saturday to take on the University of Washington this Saturday. One thing that has improved in this series since the Pac 10 has gone to round robin play is Washington does not have to play the game in Eugene for what seems five years in a row. If you are a Husky fan you always wondered if that was some secret punishment that former President William Gerberding negotiated back in the early 1990's to further penalize the program.
Now that we are back to the home and away arrangement every single year the Ducks have to play in Seattle every other year and that changes the complexion of the series. It isn't easy to win in Husky Stadium no matter who you are. Some in the media are calling this a classic trap game for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is the game is played in Seattle.
Lots of folks besides yours truly are predicting a Washington victory. ESPN’s Ted Miller, college football guru Phil Steele, Yahoo! Sports blogger Holly Anderson, Vegas Insider Lee Sterling who is on the Softy Show, and San Jose Mercury News writer Jon Wilner see uncertainty at quarterback and USC looming on the horizon as a recipe for an Oregon loss
The Ducks and Huskies have met 101 times, dating to 1900. That first meeting was all Oregon to the tune of 43-0. Since then, UW has ruled the series, piling up 58 wins against 37 defeats (and five ties).
Along the way, the Huskies have assembled six winning streaks of five or more victories against Oregon. The Ducks, on the other hand, have had only one such stretch (five games) and they are currently riding it into Saturday’s contest at Husky Stadium.
With a win, UO would match the longest streak in series history at six games – a mark Washington has reached on three occasions (1908-14, 1955-60 and 1981-86).
As we have said all week Oregon is better on paper than Washington in most phases of the game and that just happens to be why the Ducks are 5-1 and undefeated in the conference so far this season. The Duck defense has been a surprise this year and simply outscoring the opponent to win in a track meet is no longer a prerequisite for an Oregon victory. The Ducks can beat anyone with their defense and special teams. In fact they relied on it during a five minute span in third quarter against UCLA to put the Bruins away.
Washington comes in 3-4 and even though that is not an intimidating record the Huskies could just as easily be 5-2 or even 6-1. A Washington team led by Jake Locker has the potential to derail the Oregon Rose Bowl hopes on Saturday and even among those not predicting a Duck victory there is a general consensus that the outcome of this game will be decided late in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback....Washington....As we say week in and week out Jake Locker is the best QB in the conference. The only other guy that is in the running for the honor may be UO QB Jeremiah Masoli. If Masoli does start for Oregon he will be hindered by wearing a knee brace and playing on a knee that is not 100%. Masoli's status for the game will be announced right before kickoff. If they decide to give him another week to get healthy for USC (A fair bet) Nate Costa will start. It will be the same offense but Costa wasn't exactly spectacular against UCLA. He isn't as dangerous as a healthy Masoli who rushed for 285 yards and 5 TD's before going down against WSU.
Running Back....Even...UW RB Chris Polk is still on track for 1000 yards this season but Oregon has gotten more production out of its running game this season. It is still a pretty close call and the defenses rather than the running backs will determine how many yards these guys pick up. LaMichael James is a perfect fit for the Oregon offense. He has racked up 601 yards on the season so far. He isn't as physical as Polk but he doesn't need to be with the misdirection the Oregon offense throws at opponents.
Wide Receivers....Washington...The trio of Devin Aguilar, Jermaine Kearse, and Jermaine Johnson have performed well all season. Jeff Maehl is Oregon's most productive WR coming into the game with 19 catches on the season. The Ducks prefer to go more by land than air this season. Washington has more depth at this position.
Tight End...Oregon....Kavario Middelton has had his moments this season but he can't match Ed Dickson at this point of his career. UW needs to keep an eye on mismatches with Dickson and UW CB's in the red zone. UW's red zone defense will be challenged by the Oregon TE. If Oregon wins this one expect Dickson to be a big reason. Dickson is Oregon's leading receiver with 25 catches for 333 yards and 4 TD's.
Offensive Line...Oregon....The Ducks have the edge here but UW's offensive line has been adequate enough most of the season to give Locker time to throw and Polk room to run. The key of course is how well UW's defensive line reacts to all the misdirection. Oregon needs to be able to run the ball to control the game.
Defensive Line...Even....Duck fans will scoff at this but UW's problems on defense have little to do with the defensive line. UW is often rushing 3-4 players against 5-6 blockers. When things equalize in the red zone these guys are very tough to run against. UW has been deceivingly tough against the run this year with Stanford being the exception. Oregon's defensive line is based on speed rather than size. The 3-4 lineup was very effective in shutting down the Cal running game.
Linebacker...Washington....The trio of Foster, Butler, and Savannah have played well all season. Butler has mumerous Pac Ten honors and was the national defensive player of the week when UW upset USC. Oregon doesn't have a bad group either so this is a pretty close call. The Husky offense will be tested by the Ducks defensive speed outside.
Secondary....Oregon....These groups are actually pretty close. The Ducks lost their two top CB's earlier this season and the new guys have never been tested by a QB and receiving corps like Washington will bring to the table on Saturday. Oregon has the advantage as far as depth is concerned and are more solid at safety. UW still misses Justin Glenn.
Special Teams....Oregon....UW has had two poor games in a row by special teams. The Ducks are coming off a win that was powered by special teams against UCLA. Oregon like Washington is very capable of making mistakes in this area. Both teams have made mistakes this season so this part of the game is up for grabs. Factor in the crowd noise at Husky Stadium and it tends to even things out but you cannot ignore the speed Oregon brings to the table.
"I thought it was a great week of work," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said after practice Thursday. "I’m sure there’s a lot of concern about how we would respond, and our guys have responded with probably our best week of practice yet. The mood – the tension – this week has reminded me much of the week heading into the Southern California game."
"There's no love lost (in it), that's the way to say it – for the fans more so than the respective teams," Neuheisel said. "The teams have respect for one another … but the fans, there's some raw animosity. "It's an open wound, I'll tell you that."
"I actually view it a little bit differently. I view it along the lines of (USC)-Notre Dame rivalry. It's a little different to where it's not crosstown, but it's very heated, a lot of emotions involved," Sarkisian said. "And it's one that the fans are very involved in. It's not just about the football programs but it's an overall university-wide rivalry, which is great. That's why college football is great. That's what makes it fun."
"I'm not diminishing the rivalry," Kelly said. "I'm just saying that every game for us is a national championship. So this week the national championship is Oregon vs. Washington."
"Once you've played in the Oregon-Washington game, you realize that no other game shares the same intensity," Sirmon said. "When you're at Husky Stadium or you see those purple jerseys running out of the Autzen tunnels, you can tell that it's not just a regular game."