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Oregon Preview

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Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli leaves the Moshofsky Sports Center without wearing a knee brace which leads Oregon diehards to believe he is truly at 100% going into this weeks game with Washington.
Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli leaves the Moshofsky Sports Center without wearing a knee brace which leads Oregon diehards to believe he is truly at 100% going into this weeks game with Washington.

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.

Postion Matchups

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.

Washington running game versus the Oregon defense
The matchup of Chris Polk versus the Oregon defense looks pretty good to me. Chris is a powerful back that doesn't need a lot of running room to pick up rushing yards. Oregon is smaller up front and Chris tends to carry defenders with him to pick up extra yards. A reinjured shoulder is a concern. The workhouse back has missed time because of it the last two games.
Washington likes to run the ball more up the middle this season than outside. The outside tends to be the Ducks strength so far this season. I predict Chris Polk will get the tough yards needed to keep drives going on Saturday.
Jake Locker is always a threat to take off and kill teams with the run. As we know he hasn't been running all that much this season. The staff tends to save most of that that for the second half. Oregon is going to be blitzing quite a bit on Saturday so Jake's mobility is going to come into play. Oregon has to be very careful no to run right past Locker. When he steps up and goes he is the fastest player on the field.
Washington Passing Game versus the Oregon defense
Jake is going to be blitzed all day long. Oregon likes to get after it but they haven't played a mobile QB like Locker so if he steps up and they over run the play he can burn them for big yards with his feet and through the air. Look for UW to work the young Oregon CB's and the sides of the field in this one.
If I was Washington I would test Oregon long early to stretch the field. Washington does have the talent to burn the CB's long in this one.
Oregon rushing game versus the Washington defense
LaMichael James is a serious talent and Washington hasn't faced an offense that features the misdirection Oregon will throw at them on Saturday. If you have been watching the Oregon spread over the past few years you realize that when it is run to perfection it is pretty hard to figure out who exactly has the ball.
I remember a couple of years ago in Husky Stadium when Dennis Dixon was running the Ducks that we thought we had a great play on defense only to be fooled as the wrong guy was tackled and either dixon or one of the Oregon running backs was off to the races. Staying home against this defense is what is needed to be successful defending it.
Washington needs turnovers to win this game and the Ducks have put it on the carpet 13 times this season in six games.
UW has been stingy against the run in all games except Stanford. If Washington can stop or slow down the Oregon running game and build a lead it will put the game on the shoulders of the QB which was part of the recipe that Boise State used to beat the Ducks in the opener. That being said we all know the Ducks have gotten a lot better since the opener.
Oregon passing game versus the Washington Defense
We aren't exactly sure who will start at QB even though Masoli got plenty of reps. If it is Masoli you have to figure they aren't going to put him at risk by running all night. If it is Costa who has had three knee surgeries he probably won't be as mobile as Masoli even with the knee brace.
The Ducks run more than they throw this season. As a team they average 157 yards passing per game and 202 yards rushing. Even though they run more than they pass they still have completed close to 60% of their pass attempts this season with only three interceptions.
The key for Washington is getting pressure on the quarterback. As we have seen this season we can even make Danny Sullivan look like an All American.
The intangibles
The biggest intangible is playing at home at Husky Stadium. Crowd noise is a disruptive factor for opponents and the Huskies feed off of it.
Masoli's knee is a huge intangible. If he plays he probably won't be the same player who directed the destructions of Cal and Washington State.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisan feels that this was the best week of practice he has seen from the team all season.
"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."
Game Notes
UW’s most recent five game streak ran from 1989 to 1993, when it dominated on defense and outscored UO by an average margin of 17 points per game (132 to 47 overall, 26.4 to 9.4 avg.). Four of those five games were home contests for the Huskies, which is the same home to away ratio the Ducks have enjoyed during their current five-game stretch.
The availability of defensive tackle Cameron Elisara (neck stinger) pretty much remains the same. He didn't practice Thursday, and remains doubtful to play. Sarkisian has not officially ruled him out. Everrette Thompson will likely start in his place.
Strong safety Victor Aiweya hurt his shoulder in the Arizona State game, had an MRI on it this week and remains with the No. 2 defense. Nate Fellner appears ready to start at free safety, shifting Nate Williams back to his natural strong-safety position.
Offensive tackle Drew Schaefer has been getting some snaps this week at center. Maybe that is something to take a closer look at after the bye week.
Adam Long has nailed down one of the starting CB spots. Quinton Richards on will still see plenty of action on Saturday.
Nineteen different players have started on defense this season for the Huskies.
Eleventh-ranked Oregon marks the Huskies eighth consecutive opponent with a record of .500 or better. The Huskies' opponents have a combined record of 37-13. UW has already faced three of the Pac-10's top five teams, while Oregon will be the fourth
Rick Neuuheisel's take on the series:

"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."

Steve Sarkisian's take on the series:

"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."

Chip Kelly's take on the series:
"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."

Former Duck LB and current Oregon GA Peter Sirmon's take on the series:
"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."