From out of the frying pan and into the fire - the Huskies get no break after the heartbreak of a narrow, controversial loss to #5 Stanford last week in Palo Alto as they have to rebound and take on the #2 Oregon Ducks this week. After capturing the nation's attention by standing toe-to-toe with Stanford in that close loss - and in fact outplaying them on both offense and defense - they get another chance to show fans from around the country if they are for real.
Most Husky fans are believers now in this team. Year #2 underhas cemented his reputation as a defensive mastermind as he has his stop unit ranked among the very best in the country, yielding just 287.8 yards/game to rank 10th, and only 3.94 yards/play to rank 3rd. Much of that can be attributed to the secondary once more playing lights-out for DB coach Keith Heyward, ranking 3rd in the country in both yards/game and pass efficiency. The "weak-link" so far has been the run defense, which has been merely good instead of amazing.
And the offense has taken a quantum leap this year with the introduction of the HUNH approach, a style that suits this personnel to a 'T'. Keith Price is playing outstanding football and coming off perhaps his best, and probably his gutsiest performance. The status of his injured thumb will be a key component in this one - if he's having trouble with his grip, it's all over for the Huskies, as they can't afford a sub-par performance from their triggerman if they're going to end the interminable Duck win streak in this rivalry.
The trouble is that these Ducks might just be the best version yet in their recent run of elite status. The offense has somehow improved and is boasting an unreal 8.17 yards/play so far this season. Credit must go to a steady but significant uptick in recruiting for Oregon in recent years - their system is now featuring top-flight athletes, and the results speak for themselves. Defensively, coach Aliotti is as aggressive as ever, and his unit is also stocked with premium talent.
This will be by far the stiffest test the Ducks have faced this season. They have yet to be challenged in 2013 and are almost certainly looking forward to proving themselves against a worthy foe. The Huskies meanwhile survived a grinder of a game vs. Stanford, and even in defeat proved they are a different team than past versions under Sark, not wilting in the face of adversity but instead fighting back and believing in themselves. They will also have what should prove to be the biggest and loudest crowd of the year full of Husky fans out to prove they are louder than the folks down in Eugene in their cute little football arena.
This is a Husky team that has a fighting chance to topple the mighty Ducks. They have excellent corners that will allow Wilcox to gamble by sending a safety into the box. They have terrific speed and athleticism on the edges with Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney, guys that can win one-on-one battles in space against Oregon's terrific skill players. They have a man-mountain in the middle of the line in Danny Shelton that can gum up the LOS, and bigger ends in Evan Hudson and Hau'oli Kikaha that can hold up on the edges. And they are now conditioned much better to face a HUNH attack, not just physically but mentally.
The offense has the sublime weapon that is Bishop Sankey and difficult to defend targets in Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. They have breakaway threats in Jaydon Mickens and John Ross, and they have in Keith Price a 5th year QB that is playing at a very high level.
So can they win? Yes, and Duck fans are nervous because they know it. Will they win? As much as I want to say "yes", if I were putting money on this game, I'd have to go with Oregon by a slim margin. Please prove me wrong guys, but I'm calling it Oregon 38, Washington 34
While most would say this game comes down to the Husky D, I myself am focusing on the offense. I think Wilcox and the Defense will be able to do enough to put the Huskies in position to win. Will the strong, but mistake prone, offense be able to score against Oregon's defense? Their secondary is probably the best Washington will face all year and it's up to the receivers to get open downfield. Not to mention their defensive line which includes some really incredible athletes with those long levers the Husky coaches love. Oregon defenders really fly to the football and make big plays, and it's Keith Price's job to limit that, while also taking shots deep. One more thing: Special Teams. If they are anywhere near as bad as they were against Stanford, Oregon will run away with the game. Washington simply won't win giving Oregon the ball with a short field. Likewise, Washington can't start on their own 10-15 yard line, which I've been seeing a lot of this year. I think Washington has every chance in the world to win this game, especially after the Stanford loss, which revealed a lot about this team and how just good they can be. Sankey will do his thing, however, until Washington actually beats Oregon or plays them tight, I just can't pick them to win. Oregon 31, Washington 27
I have been stating since September 1st that this was a different team. They are bigger, faster and more confident than any Washington team in a very long time. This is the team that stops the streak and will take "I Heart Oregon Week" to another level. The Heisman hopeful left after this game will be Bishop Sankey as he rushes for another 170 yards and 2 TD's. Keith Price will have another great 71% completion day. Shaq Thompson and Sean Parker will intercept the QB in green or yellow or whatever stupid color they will be wearing on Saturday. We will all party throughout the night knowing that once again Oregon will fall short of their national title hopes. UW 34 Oregon 24
Tomorrow's matchup with the Ducks feels different than the last nine on several levels. First, there is the obvious fact that this is the best team that the Huskies have fielded since, at least, their last Rose Bowl winning team. It has been more than 10 years since we've seen a team capable of dictating tempo and their will on both Offense and Defense as the Huskies have done in each of the first five games that they've played (including last week against #5 Stanford). These Huskies aren't catching breaks or getting lucky bounces, they are legitimately dominating their opponents with scheme, talent and execution on both sides of the ball. Most impressively, they are leading with their Defense which is a welcome sight for all Husky fans. That is different.
Second, there is the variable of the new head coach on the Oregon sidelines. Mark Helfrich, perhaps somewhat unlike his predecessor, is a man of a robust character and infectious charisma. But he is also a rookie head coach with a rookie offensive coordinator who has not played a legitimate competitor nor faced the prospect of managing the emotions of 70 young men in a hostile working environment. I have to admit, I really admire Coach Helf and it really bugs me that I like Oregon's head coach. That said, this is going to be a learning curve moment for him as well as that of his team - something that Chip Kelly had long past experienced. Oregon isn't used to going through learning curve moments. Their last two - Chip Kelly's first game versus Boise State and the pressure cooker of the NCG - demonstrated that unfamiliar experiences can create challenges for even the best head coaches. That is different.
Third, the Husky Stadium variable makes the whole gameday experience feel different. Of course, the presence of ESPN will add to the overall hype-o-meter and create a unique moment for all of the fans lucky enough to be able to attend. But the unveiling of our new palatial setting seems to be the final "piece" of the rebuild project for a team that has been struggling to return to relevancy in the Pac 12 for the last decade. Loaded up with an experienced staff, with a depth of talent, with an supportive administration and, now, with the premiere facilities on the west coast, it simply doesn't feel like we are the second-class upstart that we were trying to be as recently as last season. It feels like it did in the 90's. This is our house. Our game. Our time.
There are no good reasons to pick UW to win. Oregon is deep. They are talented. They are meticulously trained to execute their systems. They have a Heisman candidate QB and waves of offensive weapons. Oregon is the better team and have earned the benefit of the doubt in spades. Sure ... we can quibble about who has the better pass D (...Washington) or the better rushing O (...Oregon), but we would be just debating around the periphery of the real issue. It's been nine years. Enough of this shit already. This one belongs to the good guys. Oregon 35, Washington 48.
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.