All week I've vacillated on this pick. On the one hand, the rational side of me looks at this match-up and sees a Husky defense that is good - and at the rate they're improving, could be very good by season's end - that has a chance to slow down the Duck offense, but is still very green in the secondary and will not be facing the emergency crew of OT's for the Ducks that WSU & Arizona faced. That rational part thinks that Oregon's pass protection will be better than Cal's, and when Mariota feels the rush he'll escape for big gains, either with his feet or through the air to Devon Allen. And while the Huskies have been exceptional so far this year in generating turnovers - and converting those into instant touchdowns - that fortune can't last.
And the rational part also sees a Husky offense that just hasn't shown the type of run game that can be relied on to consistently generate first downs. Our backs are serviceable but not exceptional, and are not the type of quick cutback runners that can take advantage of Oregon's big LB crew that can be prone to over-pursuit. The rational part sees a passing offense that is limited in effectiveness and that has yet to incorporate weapons like Kasen Williams and Darrell Daniels into the mix and relies too heavily on bubble screens when the WR blocking and the QB arm strength don't favor that approach.
But the fan in me thinks that we still haven't seen the best out of this team, that Hau'oli Kikaha has reached another level where it doesn't matter if he's facing Jake Fisher or not - he'll get around the edge on a regular basis, and that Danny Shelton will continue his stellar play and collapse the pocket from the middle leaving Mariota little room to maneuver. It thinks that the Duck defense is not what it used to be and that the Husky run game is good enough to churn out 4-yard gains and keep the chains moving, that Cyler Miles will surprise Oregon with his feet for some big gains, and that the passing game will build off the improvement they showed last week.
The fan in me thinks that Washington now has the coaching advantage in the form of Chris Petersen, and that he will have this team ready with the right mix of focus, preparation and motivation. It sees the Ducks busting out the '94 throwback jerseys and thinks that Oregon has pushed their luck too far, and that karmic payback is a bitch. And that the payback could be in the form of Mariota's string of no interceptions broken by one Budda Baker - former Oregon commit - who takes an errant Duck pass to the house to break a streak of futility to Oregon that never should have happened and will forever be the punctuation in the indictment of those who mismanaged Husky football.
The rational part says the Huskies keep things close but don't have enough offense to overcome the Ducks; the fan says "screw it, this is a fan blog and I'm a fan, not a journalist", and so I'm going with a signature defensive performance from the Huskies and just enough offense to get the job done as the Dawgs give the finger to Oregon's 20-year celebration of "the pick" - UW 27, Oregon 21
I just don't see how an offense that has been mediocre at best walks into the toughest venue in the conference and knocks off the No. 9 team in the country featuring the most dangerous quarterback in the game. It pains me to say it, but Oregon 38, Washington 28
Playing Oregon this weekend is a whole different beast than Cal, but I expect that the formula will have to be the same - we are who we are. For the Huskies to pull this off, they'll need create pressure from base, keep Duck playmakers in front of them, win in the red zone by holding Oregon to a 50% TD rate and NOT LOSE the turnover battle.
The question before us is whether or not we can expect UW to impose that plan. Defensively, I do think that we can create pressure on Oregon out of base and I do expect that our containment on Mariota will be better than we've seen the last few years. That said, I do worry about the secondary falling in the trap of breaking coverage and allowing Oregon receivers to get behind them.
Offensively, the Huskies need to move the chains, but they must find a way to do so without risking turnovers. Oregon has only committed three all season, so the odds of them giving us a couple are slim. We can't afford to lose the turnover battle. This doesn't mean that they can't take downfield shots, but it does mean that they'll need to set them up effectively with the run. This is where I think UW is really going to struggle. Their rushing attack hasn't fully clicked yet.
I don't think the Huskies are well-positioned to win this game. If their offense was further along, then maybe. But, without a fully functional rush attack, without an active Kasen, without lights out offensive line play and without middle-of-the-field exploitation by TEs, I don't know how UW is going to score the 38 points that I think they will need to beat Oregon in Autzen.
But, screw it, I'm picking UW. I think the Dawgs will keep this close most of the way and they won't freak out when it is time to finish, as they have in years past. I think that they will find a way to get to it done just to spite me as I have no idea how they are actually going to do it. Call it UW 38, Oregon 34
Even though Washington's offense isn't terribly consistent or dynamic outside of John Ross, this might be the best the Huskies have matched up with the Ducks the last several seasons due to the defensive front seven. I think I said the same thing last year, but the difference in performance up front between 2013 and 2014 is pretty stark. The Huskies will be able to get pressure on #8 with only four people frequently enough that he isn't going to feel as comfortable against a base front as Oregon quarterbacks have in years past. And if they can get to #8 without having to blitz, there'll be enough defenders in the back half of the field to hopefully contain him for short runs instead of the gashing gains he's killed teams with thus far in his career. Oregon will run the ball, but if the defense can disrupt the timing of the zone read, maintain there gaps and assignments, and tackle well in space, the Huskies can keep Oregon from making too many big plays on the ground. And I think they will. The Ducks will get yards, but not as many points.
Oregon's defense has taken a pretty big step back this season. Several teams have run the ball well on them, frequently right up the middle. Although the Husky running game has been a little hit and miss, this is a game that Miles can really add positive value with his decision making and his own running ability in the zone read attack. If the Huskies can get the ball past Oregon's defensive line, the Duck linebackers aren't great. That also means that the throws Miles made against Cal vertically (the slants, mostly) should be there again tomorrow. But the key is staying patient - the Ducks WILL come out fired up, and it's likely that they might stuff the Huskies for a series or two early. Jonathon Smith has to stick with the running game. He's not going to win the game in the first quarter, or even the first half. He also has to remember that this is a Duck defense that is really bad on third down.
The Huskies have to continue to be fantastic with ball security, and they have to figure out a way to take the ball away from a Duck team that also does a great job holding on to the ball. They're likely going to need a big play from the defense and special teams. And they'll need to put together more long offensive drives than they have as of yet. Playing this game on the road isn't ideal, but Autzen Stadium isn't as intimidating as it once was, both in the atmosphere inside and the reputation as a place impossible for opponents to win. I think Chris Petersen will have his team ready with a calm fury, and it translates to incredible focus once the game starts. The defense shines, Cyler Miles is an efficient weapon, my wife once again notes how cute he is, Korey Durkee averages 56.9 yards (on 5 punts), John Ross has a 68-yard kickoff return, Hau'oli Kikaha grabs an interception on a pass he tips to himself, Budda Baker forces and recovers a fumble (but doesn't get an interception, which Jimmy Lake notes in the post game), the running backs combine for 148 yards (83 for Lavon Coleman, 65 for Dwayne Washington), and the Huskies pull out the 27-24 win.