Hard to believe this is one of the few games in this series where both teams are ranked. And oddly, most of them have been one-sided affairs. But that’s where we are, with the winner of this game most likely to go on and win the North division.
The key to this game for Washington will be on offense, and their ability to keep the ball. While the big mismatch is Oregon’s secondary that is prone to giving up big plays against Washington’s downfield passing game, Myles Gaskin will have to come up big. Oregon is much stronger vs. the run than the pass, but I think the Washington coaches will want to keep the ball out of Justin Herbert’s hands and drain the clock as much as possible. I think they will come out throwing early but then quickly go to the run after Oregon is forced to soften up the defense.
When Oregon gets the ball, it will be extremely difficult to get to Herbert. Not only does he not get sacked much, Washington’s pass rush has been lackluster at best this year—the Huskies simply don’t make many plays behind the LOS. I expect the coaches will double down on this and try to keep Herbert from escaping the pocket, and force him to throw to a “meh” group of receivers against an elite secondary. If Washington can contain the ground game, they will frustrate Oregon, who will be forced to play patiently and efficiently.
The Huskies are more experienced and better coached. It will be close, but the Huskies’ execution will be sharper. Oregon will get tons of yards, but will have to settle for FGs while Ty Jones and Aaron Fuller find the end zone for Washington (plus two rushing TDs for Gaskin). The TEs come up big in this one too.
Washington 28, Oregon 24
Much has been made about the Huskies playing back-to-back road games with that second opponent coming off a cleansing bye week. It certainly sounds unfair but I decided to look back to 2012 to see how similar teams have fared. There have only been four other times since then when a Pac-12 team has had conference road games on consecutive weeks when the second team had a bye the week before. The last team to do it? The Huskies last season.
You may not remember it being a big deal, though, because their two opponents were Colorado and Oregon State who finished a combined 2-16 in Pac-12 play. A 4-win Colorado team got blown out in consecutive weeks but both 2015 Oregon and 2013 ASU went 2-0 in this situation. However, neither team faced a ranked opponent either week and Oregon’s second victory came in 3OT while ASU held on against Utah by a single point.
The point of all that was to suggest that the influence of the Pac-12 schedule makers may be felt on this game but it isn’t as if teams are 0-32 lifetime in this situation and we can chalk it up as a loss. More worrisome was the defense’s inability to get stops or even the occasional negative play on the road at UCLA last week.
There’s a good chance that Justin Herbert will be the best QB the Huskies face all season, but I’m not overly scared of the Oregon receivers if Washington matches up man-to-man on the outside. And if Oregon wants to run the ball against a light box and take it out of Herbert’s hands, I’m okay with that.
I really don’t have a good sense for this game. There are virtually no outcomes that could surprise me. Huskies come out flat again on the road and can’t recover from a huge hole? Sure. The teams play to nearly a draw before one team or the other kicks a last-minute field goal? Totally reasonable. Washington exposes Oregon’s lack of competition to this point and plays their best game of the season in a double-digit win? I could see it. Ultimately, I’m going with the middle scenario. Huskies score a touchdown with less than a minute to go to take the lead and Oregon misses a game-winning 55 yarder which I don’t see because I’ve locked myself in the other room, my heart doing its best drum roll impression, and unable to bear it.
Washington 30, Oregon 28
Predicting the Oregon game, even when I’m supremely confident in Washington’s ability, is just not fun. And when Oregon is looking on the up and the Dawgs just looked lazy at UCLA? That’s just too stressful.
The thing is, looking at both the numbers and how Washington’s performed against their Oregon-comparable opponents, it should be pretty intuitive to pick the Huskies to win. Weirdness of the UCLA game notwithstanding, Washington has scored 5.9 more points per game than their FBS opponents give up (that number shifts slightly to 5.313 if you take out said opponents’ points given up to Washington), with Oregon doing a bit better at 7.88 more points per game than their FBS opponents’ average defense allows. Either way, that estimates UW will score between 29.7ish to 30.3 points against Oregon. Of the defenses they’ve faced, BYU gives up almost exactly the same points per game as Oregon; Auburn, Utah, and ASU all give up much less. Even among Oregon’s strength in the pass rush, Auburn and Utah probably are stronger opponents there as well, while BYU has comparably fear-inducing ends and OLBs in Kaufusi and Takitaki.
Plus on film, Washington matches up pretty well in most cases. On defense, Washington’s secondary should easily handle Oregon receivers not named Dillon Mitchell, the lines will probably be about even, and the linebackers should continue to be all-right-not-amazing-but-get-the-job-done. Meanwhile, Washington’s receivers, especially Ty Jones, have an advantage over Oregon’s secondary (although the secondary’s propensity for prioritizing havoc over limiting explosiveness means that could go both ways; Jones and Fuller get themselves a few chunk plays, and Lenoir, Graham, or Amadi gets an interception off Jake). Gaskin and Ahmed—especially Gaskin—should take advantage of any poor arm-tackling by the linebackers. The main advantage the Ducks have is the combination of Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins coming off the edge in the pass rush and Justin Herbert’s ability to put velocity on the ball in tight corners (although that’s also bitten him in the past when he gets too confident, too).
And yet for some reason it’s impossible to get this sinking knot regarding Oregon out of my stomach.
Maybe it’s how undisciplined and poor both the defense and offense looked against UCLA that’s giving me recency bias and making me worry a bunch. I dunno. Either way, my gut is saying Oregon but my brain is saying Washington, and I hate it. If you calculate the final score by adding each team’s Avg Points Above Opponents’ PPR to each other’s Opponents’ PPR Avg, the outcome would be Washington 30.3 - Oregon 21.6. But it’s the Washington-Oregon game, so that all goes out the window. Whatever. 49-0. Just kidding. Here it is:
Washington 28, Oregon 24
We are now about halfway through the 2018 football season. At this point, we can safely make some definitive observations about what our favorite team is and what it isn’t. Similarly, we can do the same for the competition left on our schedule.
I’ve observed here a few times that I see the Huskies as the most complete team in the league. They have few real gaps in depth or capability and they have multiple areas of strength that can be activated to overcome whatever other teams might try to take away. They are also mature and well coached. You see the tangible benefits of those attributes in “execution” kinds of stats such as penalties, third-down conversions, and offensive/defensive efficiency.
However, this team has some limitations. Without having the kinds of athletes or the depth of talent that other premier teams have, it is hard to project with confidence that UW will run the PAC. That feat hasn’t been accomplished since Oregon did it 2010.
The odds are that UW is going to lose one this season. Oregon looks like the most probable on the list of remaining gaps.
While not as disciplined as Washington, the Ducks can match UW athlete for athlete. Their offensive line is playing well and looks well-positioned to create some rushing lanes against UW’s light six-man box in addition to creating clean pockets for QB Justin Herbert to make some throws. While I have every confidence that UW will defend a great many of Oregon’s chunk play attempts, I’m not sure that they can stop them all. The risk of Oregon posting 30+ points, especially at home after a bye week, is as high as it’s been against any team UW has seen.
On the flip side, I don’t see any reason to believe that UW can get much past the mid-30 mark in points scored themselves. They simply don’t have the same explosive play potential as Oregon. Their efficiency is high and that seems to result in a 28-35 point ceiling on any game.
The wild card, of course, is extra possessions. Oregon has been better than UW in forcing turnovers this year, partly because of their competition and partly because of the aggressiveness of their D. Conversely, they are more turnover-prone, but not so much more so that one could confidently predict UW getting two or three extra possessions.
Without that, I just don’t see a clear advantage for UW. This looks like a straight-up pick ‘em game. The home field, the fact that UW will be playing a second in a row on the road, and the bye week all swing the favor back to the Duckers.
Washington 27, Oregon 35
Having come of age during the halcyon days of The Streak, there’s no game between the Ducks and the Huskies that I will ever feel 100 percent comfortable predicting. That’s even more so the case when the Ducks are nationally ranked, when the game is at Autzen Stadium, and when Oregon boasts an NFL-caliber quarterback who is regarded as a legitimate possible No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
All this is to say that even though the Huskies are favored by 3.5 points and ESPN’s Football Power Index simulations have Washington earning the victory in nearly two-thirds of simulations, it’s tough for me to shake the feeling in the pit of my stomach that the Ducks are going to ruin UW’s season. Justin Herbert has looked surgical in his games against overmatched opponents, and the Huskies pass rush has failed to pressure lesser quarterbacks than Oregon’s.
And yet, if I tamp down my gut instinct to embrace my inner pessimist, I’m reminded that Oregon’s pass defense has surrendered as many touchdowns as any Pac-12 team not named Oregon State, and that Jake Browning’s connection to Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones has been tremendously productive in moving the chains and winning this year’s field position battles. And while Oregon’s rushing defense has been largely impressive so far, it bears mentioning that they were exposed last week by Cal to the tune of 241 yards and two scores.
In other words, both teams have offenses loaded with star power that are capable of making big plays and putting points on the board, which should make for good drama in a nationally televised game. But if the Huskies don’t get overwhelmed before the raucous Autzen crowd (which is admittedly a big ‘if’), they should be able to engineer more defensive stops than the Ducks and force Oregon to play from behind. As long as the Huskies don’t make unforced errors and give the Ducks opportunities to rally the home crowd’s momentum, they should have the personnel advantage to add a victory over a quality ranked team to their resume. Washington 31, Oregon 24.
Washington- 4, Oregon- 1
Against the Spread (Washington -3.5)
Washington- 3, Oregon- 2
Washington- 28.8, Oregon- 27.0