The Washington Huskies will meet the Oregon Ducks for the 110th time Saturday, with the Dawgs holding a 59-45-5 edge in the series. Oregon will surely be eager to avenge the 70-21 beatdown they suffered last year at Autzen Stadium, but the smart money expects Washington to come away with a second consecutive win: Vegas Insider’s betting line favors the Huskies by 17 (after opening at 26), and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Washington an 88.4 percent chance at emerging victorious. How do the UW Dawg Pound writers expect the game to turn out?
For most of my life, I dreaded this game more than any other each year, and for good reason. Oregon holds a 19-10 edge over Washington since I came into the world, and the closest Washington got to beating Oregon when I was in college came in 2006, when Ty Willingham lost to Mike Bellotti by a razor-thin margin of 20 points. After Vernon Adams led the Ducks to a win at Husky Stadium in 2015 — a game in which Washington was favored — I seriously considered the possibility that Oregon’s winning streak (12 long, miserable years at that point) had no end in sight. The Ducks, quite simply, didn’t lose to the Huskies anymore.
All this is to say that last year’s 49-point Washington victory was nothing short of manna from heaven. Watching Oregon fans head for the exits at halftime with the Dawgs holding a 35-7 advantage filled me with the kind of irrational giddy happiness that only college football seems capable of delivering.
For that feeling to continue in 2017, the Huskies will have to contend with an Oregon offensive attack that ranks among the most potent in the conference. Royce Freeman in particular is in the middle of a monster streak, having rushed for 442 yards in his three most recent games. Freeman is one of just eight running backs in college football to already eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the season, and stopping him needs to be Pete Kwiatkowski’s No. 1 priority.
On offense, the Huskies will face an Oregon defense that is much improved relative to the laughable squad the Ducks fielded last year. Relative to 2016, this year’s Oregon defense is on pace to allow 12.2 fewer points, 131 fewer rushing yards and 18 fewer passing yards per game. Oregon’s pass defense seems to be the team’s weakest link (19 touchdowns versus eight interceptions), meaning that a crisp, smart game from Jake Browning (not to mention the injury-stricken UW receiving corps) offers Washington their clearest path toward a comfortable victory.
As it has already been the case so many times this season, Washington’s defense should be the difference in this game. Even assuming Justin Herbert starts and plays at full strength, Washington’s run defense is strong enough to force Oregon to throw the ball — and Oregon’s 1.5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 189.3 passing yards per game ranks eighth and 11th in the conference, respectively. The end of Oregon’s streak was an amazing thing to witness; the beginning of Washington’s own streak will be something better still. Washington 37, Oregon 17
The Ducks have a tough task coming up to Seattle and taking on a UW team that, I’m sure, is feeling a bit stung by the lack of respect shown to them in the first CFP poll.
What better way to put some positive attention back on the program than with a duck roast in front of a sold-out crowd?
The weather is going to be a factor for both teams with the forecast calling for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s. So don’t expect another 70 point outburst.
Do expect the Huskies to shut down the Duck offense (let’s go ahead and predict seven punts+turnovers) and for UW to get a few chunk plays in the passing game. You might even see Ty Jones make his first “big play” of the year.
Oregon 10, Washington 31
I think this could be another slow-ish start that ends with the Dawgs pulling away in the second half. Oregon has a decent run defense which'll give Washington's biggest offensive strength some issues for a bit but their front seven has also gotten gassed later in games; I think Washington will power their way to victory at that point, but until then it'll probably be kinda close. Fortunately the Huskies' defense -- even with injuries -- looks as good as they have all year so I can't see Oregon scoring more than two touchdowns and a couple field goals even if Justin Herbert starts. With the Washington offense struggling like it has, I would normally be more worried but I can't imagine Oregon scoring enough against this defense to win the game. Washington 37 - 20 Oregon
Is Justin Herbert going to play? It's gotta be tempting for Willie Taggart to give him another week to rest the collarbone and roll that into the bye week, but if Herbert is 100% I imagine he will be out there.
Oregon presents some challenges with a really good rushing attack. Their defense is also quite decent against the run, so if the Huskies are able to run the ball effectively early on it will mean that it wasn't just UCLA's bad run defense. It will mean the running game is legit. Fingers crossed on that one.
I think Oregon will be able to limit the Huskies on the ground, and it will be up to Jake Browning to get the passing offense in gear or this one will be a low-scoring slugfest. It's going to be cold and raining, but not a ton of wind, so Jake and his offense have to establish the short passing game and take some shots downfield. We keep waiting for Browning to have a big game, and I dont think he goes off on Saturday, but does enough to get the Ducks off balance and allow the running game to get things going in the second half.
Defensively, the stout UW defense will be facing either an improving Braxton Burmeister or a somewhat rusty Justin Herbert. They will no doubt give the Dawgs a steady diet of Royce Freeman, and mix in the other backs as well. The Huskies just need to play their game and should be able to hold down the Ducks to a drive or two.
UW 31, Oregon 13
After a couple off games, Jake Browning and the pass attack will look to get on track this week against Oregon. In fact, both QBs will likely be under the microscope.
For Browning, can he air it out like he did in his magnificent 8 TD game last year? Who starts behind center for Oregon? If Justin Herbert is back, how healthy and ready is he after a month off? If freshman Braxton Burmeister gets the go, will the coaches trust him to throw downfield? He's got only 2 TD with 5 INT to along with a staggering 14% sack rate - you would expect a heavy dose of the run game if he starts (though he had a really nice game against Utah). Herbert has been "taking first team reps in practice" but who starts is a mystery until kickoff.
Oregon defensively has found a resurgence this year under 1st year coordinator Jim Leavitt. While they still have a ways to go, they have a solid run defense bolstered by getting into the backfield for lots of TFLs. In fact they are second in the PAC 12 in rushing yards per game allowed. They're weaker in the secondary but freshman CB Thomas Graham (47 tackles, 2 INTs) has been a standout. Troy Dye at MLB and Jalen Jelks upfront are two players the Husky offense must be aware of if they are to get things going on the ground. They will likely make some plays but expect the run game to find some success and open up for the pass. I don't expect an offensive explosion but we'll start to see a more typical, balanced attack the coaches strive for.
Washington defensively all season has been incredible. As is typical in recent years, whoever starts at QB will have a tough time playing a great game inside Husky Stadium. The Huskies have gotten creative with their pass rush and the by-committee approach has been working well. Oregon's OL presents a stiffer challenge, LT Tyrell Crosby in particular. They also have a trio of running backs as good as any in the country and can really get going on the ground. The Husky defense hasn't allowed a 40+ yard play all season and if that streak continues it probably means a tough day for the Ducks on the ground. I trust the secondary to cover Oregon's receivers downfield long enough for the front 7 to get home.
Should be a close first half with the Huskies eventually coming out on top. The defense scores a TD and special teams makes a big play. Huskies win, 35-17.