The more I dwell on this, the more my gut feels like this one could be another heartbreaker. Mostly, I keep recalling CJ Verdell’s performance last year combined with the inside linebackers being significantly worse this year at stopping the run (and more). It’ll be interesting to see if Ariel Ngata continues playing more inside and hopefully, if so, his speed can help there. Also, like Andrew and I discussed on that dumb old podcast of ours, the injury to Oregon tight end Jacob Breeland takes away UW’s biggest weakness in the passing game, but this all came down to Oregon’s rush anyway.
When the Dawgs are on offense, it’s hard for me to make a legit “prediction” here after seeing them unload the second half against Arizona and do alright against a pretty good USC defense, but suck a bunch against Cal and Stanford. Since I’ve always harped on sample sizes in my writing here, I’m gonna assume Washington’s offense is mediocre against good defenses until they consistenly prove otherwise. And while Oregon has only faced offenses that have had blatant flaws, they’ve still shut those down enough where it should translate relative to anyone -- and it’s not like UW’s offense is flawless, either (don’t know if you’ve been paying attention). So, until Washington shows they can play like the latter part of last game, all the time, I’ll assume they’re gonna have at least some trouble with keeping drives alive against Oregon’s defense.
I’m still not 100% convinced for any team, so my prediction is a gradient: final score, 27-24, with a 70% chance that the Ducks are 27 (ew hate that) and a 30% chance the Dawgs hit that score. (Also, just for the redemption story, if UW wins it’s a last second field goal by Peyton Henry.)
Editor’s note- Prediction bylaws prohibit percentage-based scores therefore the official predicted score must stand as:
Washington- 24, Oregon- 27
We all circled this game at the start of the year. Not only is it Oregon. Not only were they the top ranked team in the conference in the pre-season. Not only do we feel the need to avenge a painful loss in Eugene last year. They’re also the biggest challenger for Pac-12 North supremacy. Things have not gone according to schedule for the Huskies, who could have been 7-0 coming into the showdown if not for stumbles against Cal and Stanford. Now, the game is more important than ever because the Dawgs need to make up two games in the division and won’t have a chance if that deficit swells to three.
The most impressive thing about Oregon this year has been their defense. They have held opposing teams to 3.94 yards per play and have picked off opposing passers 12 times (versus throwing only one themselves). They are solid against both the pass (4.8 y/a) and the run (3.1 y/a). One stat that will be especially scary for Husky fans is that opponents have only score 8 times in 14 red zone trips against Oregon. Linebackers Mase Funa and Troy Dye have been the most disruptive defenders, but the Ducks have done most of their damage by staying in position and using their team speed to prevent big plays. Offensively, Justin Herbert is a known commodity, but he has not put up eye-popping numbers due to conservative play calls. The loss of security blanket TE Jacob Breeland could result in a rare mistake. CJ Verdell leads a diverse stable of young running backs who have been good but not elite.
Washington’s defense will have to tackle and limit the running game to have a chance in this one. The loss of Breeland leaves Oregon with only two pass-catchers with 10 receptions on the year. The Husky secondary and emerging pass rush should make this game more difficult for Herbert than usual. He only totaled 202 yards on 32 attempts last year and the Huskies would take that again this time around, especially if they can engineer a turnover or two and prevent long, run-centered drives. When the Huskies have the ball, the running game will be crucial once again. Last week reminded us that Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew are the lifeblood of the offense. Jacob Eason can pick his spots with Aaron Fuller, Puka Nacua, and Hunter Bryant if the running game can stay ahead of the chains. The Huskies can win this game with consistent offensive execution and enough run defense to get Oregon off the field. I question whether that’s the most likely outcome.
Washington- 24, Oregon- 28
This is going to be a very low scoring game. Oregon’s defense is statistically one of the best in the entire country, allowing under 9 points per game. There’s a very good chance that Washington’s passing game continues to struggle in this matchup. Oregon has the second-best passing defense in the country thanks to quality DB play and a ferocious pass rush. Given this reality, Washington will likely lean on the ground game and pound the rock with Ahmed and McGrew to set up play action passes, just like in the second half of the Arizona game. I can also see Hunter Bryant and Cade Otton having potentially big games, as Eason will likely be under a lot of pressure and need to dump the ball off on quick slant roots to the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s offense just lost their best weapon and Justin Herbert’s favorite target in TE Jacob Breeland. His production will be hard to replace, and especially against the good passing defense that Washington brings to the table. I imagine that Oregon will also lean on their ground game and give CJ Verdell plenty of opportunities to break a big play or two. He ran for 171 yards on 14 carries last weekend against Colorado, so he’s certainly capable of hurting the Huskies where their defense has been the weakest this season, against the run.
All that said, if you remove the three weakest defensive opponents the Ducks have played this season (Nevada, Montana, and Colorado), Oregon has only averaged about 20 points per game. They also haven’t scored more than 21 points away from Autzen stadium this season. Given that the Huskies have the home field advantage, this would lead one to believe that Oregon is likely going to score roughly that many points in this matchup (albeit it is a small sample size).
So, can the Huskies score more than 21 points in this game?... I would love, LOVE to be wrong about where I’m going with this prediction. But, from what I’ve seen of both teams this season, even with the loss of Breeland, Oregon’s offense still has enough weapons behind Herbert’s strong throwing arm to do damage. That, paired with Oregon’s defensive play this season and Washington’s offensive struggles, leads me to believe that Husky fans are going to have a crappy Saturday afternoon and evening. Oregon wins by a field goal. Yuck.
Washington- 20, Oregon- 23
Last week I was very wrong about the Huskies. Well, I was right about the offense struggling in the first half. The defense wasn’t perfect but I was really impressed with their energy and passion they played with to contain Khalil Tate and make him almost a non-factor in the game. The pass rush especially from guys like Bowman and Tryon made the defense really click. Hopefully Asa Turner is the playmaking safety we’ve been waiting for since Taylor Rapp left.
Oregon offensively is a very flawed team. They have the QB, OL, and overall talent to score on most teams but instead they often favor just running the ball up the gut and “being physical”. The results have been predictably underwhelming on the ground while a solid and efficient pass game is the clear strength of the offense. Finally against Colorado the game plan reflected this - Oregon went with a pass first look to open up the run game and it worked. It was the best and most complete offensive performance of the season. A big question I have is - will Cristobal keep that style moving forward, or will he try to have his team “impose their will” on their rival in hostile territory? If Oregon goes ground-and-pound out of the pistol for four quarters, that favors Washington. The Huskies haven’t been great against the run, but should be able to handle an average Oregon ground attack. If the Husky defense can force Justin Herbert to hold onto the ball for an extra second, he will be very indecisive. When he can get into a rhythm with quick passes, it loosens up the defense and then Oregon can run behind that big offensive line.
Defensively, Oregon is a juggernaut this year. They have shutdown every team they have played though they haven’t played any truly great offenses yet. Washington is far from great on offense so Oregon should be able to cause the Huskies a lot of trouble. They rank in the top 12 nationally in both sacks and TFLs - if the Husky OL doesn’t given Eason time, this game will get ugly very quickly. What’s most important for UW is not getting down early. Oregon’s DBs will eat Washington’s receivers alive if they have to pass first and are forced to play catch up. The Ducks have been incredible in the red zone while Washington is still struggling mightily to score near the goal line. Getting Puka Nacua involved early and often is a necessity.
Oregon has struggled on the road in the past couple of years, and Justin Herbert hasn’t shown the ability to handle tough environments and gut out a win for his team. I like the Husky defense matched up against Oregon’s offense which hasn’t been terribly explosive this season. But I am still not sold on the Husky offense. They had two good quarters against a mediocre at best Arizona defense, and they still were terrible on 3rd downs and questionable in the red zone. The struggles in short yardage situations scare me too - I am not convinced that his Husky offense has turned the corner...yet.
I hate to pick another Husky loss but Oregon’s defense just feels like too much.
Washington- 17, Oregon- 22
Oh boy. It’s actually here. And just the thought of it tears my stomach into pieces. After each Husky loss this season there have been plenty of Chicken Little’s out there claiming that the sky is falling. And you would think that losing a game in which the Huskies are 3 point underdogs wouldn’t constitute as the sky falling. But man would it feel like it.
If Washington’s offense hadn’t gone into hyperdrive in the 2nd half against Arizona it would probably feel like there’s a 0% chance the Dawgs get into the end zone more than once. The Oregon pass defense has been as good or better than any the Huskies have been able to put forth in recent years. No FBS opponent has averaged more than 6 yards per attempt through the air against the Ducks this season. The Huskies are 0-2 this year when Eason throws for fewer than 7.5 yards per attempt (5.31 vs. Cal and 5.7 at Stanford). Washington’s passing game absolutely has to play at its best to keep them in the game.
Even if Eason and the receivers play their best game you can expect a more than healthy dose of Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew. The Ducks have been merely good against the run this year ranking 31st in yards per carry and 58th in stopping the opponent at or behind the line of scrimmage. However, they stiffen up near the goal line which is not good for a UW team that already struggles woefully in that area. Oregon is #1 in the country at preventing RZ touchdowns as they give up 6 points on just 15% of opponents’ possessions. Yuck.
Despite Herbert’s status as a potential #1 overall pick I think the Huskies would prefer for the Ducks to try to move the ball through the air. Oregon is down their top receiver on the season in TE Jacob Breeland and he seemed like the biggest potential mismatch for the UW secondary. No one else among the pass catchers truly scares you the way that Dillon Mitchell did last year.
The concern is what do the Huskies do if Oregon commits to the running game. None of the Ducks’ backs are 1st team all-conference guys but Washington is 88th in yards per carry against and just 115th in stuff rate. If Oregon chooses to march down the field via the ground game 4-8 yards at a time it seems very likely they’ll be able to do so. Oregon’s offensive line was a wee bit overrated entering the season but they are still very good and Penei Sewell is the best OL in the conference since probably Tyron Smith at USC.
There is a path to victory for the Dawgs. If both teams have success grinding it out on the ground it likely limits the total number of possessions and increases the chances that a turnover or a big special teams play swings the final result. And unlike a year ago when the Dawgs missed a game winning field goal and allowed a 50+ yard kickoff return, the Huskies special teams has been elite this year. The numbers suggest a Washington loss but the last time the Dawgs lost a home game I was in attendance for at least one full quarter was against Utah nearly 4 years ago. The Dawgs recover a fumble with under two minutes left and redemption thy name is Peyton Henry when he hits a game winning 37 yarder as time expires.
Washington- 24, Oregon- 23
Straight Up: Washington- 1, Oregon- 4
Against the Spread (UW +3): Washington- 1, Oregon- 2, Push- 2
Average Score: Washington- 21.8, Oregon- 24.6