Here’s a quick description of the next opponent for Washington:
Speed on both sides of the ball. Superior athleticism at skill positions. Experienced, mobile quarterback capable of making game-breaking plays with arm or legs. Big and physical in the trenches. Well coached. Features up-tempo offense.
Sure sounds a lot like the Huskies themselves, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because the Oregon Ducks (5-0, 2-0) who come to Seattle on Saturday, are a very similar team. Both squads play fast on offense and are able to do so because of the type of players that occupy their respective rosters. It is the same story on the defensive side of the ball where both squads rank in the top-11 nationally in points-per-game allowed.
No. 16 Washington (4-1, 1-1) will be looking to put the heartbreaking loss at No. 5 Stanford behind them as they host the second-ranked Ducks, a team that hasn’t lost on the road since falling 51-42 to Stanford in 2009, a span of 17 games.
It is yet another daunting challenge for the Huskies, but one that they must rise up to if they want to take the critical next step in the Steve Sarkisian-era. It isn’t that they haven’t beaten a top-5 opponent yet (they beat No. 3 USC in 2009), it’s the fact that they haven’t done so consistently nor done it as a ranked team themselves.
Ducks QB Marcus Mariota, a Heisman Trophy candidate, is one of the reasons Oregon presents such a challenge. The sophomore is 76-for-134 for 1,358 yards passing, he has thrown 14 touchdowns and no interceptions, all despite not playing a full game this season.
That’s because Oregon has scored at least 55 points in all five games. Its offense ranks second nationally with averages of 59.2 points-per-game, 630.4 total yards and a 47-point margin of victory.
In fact, the last time Oregon played in a game that was decided in the fourth quarter, it fell to Stanford 17-14 last November to fall out of the national title game. Could that be a factor, Saturday? We will have to see.
Oregon enters the contest relatively healthy. One key player to keep an eye on leading up to the game, however, is running back De’Anthony Thomas who missed last week’s game against Colorado. Byron Marshall started in place of Thomas and rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries.
Key matchup when Oregon has the ball:
While Oregon has multiple playmakers on offense, it all starts with Mariota. The job of containing him will largely fall on the shoulders of the Washington defensive ends and linebackers. One player who could be at the forefront of that for the Huskies, is sophomore Travis Feeney. Feeney saw extended action against Stanford despite being behind Princeton Fuimaono on the depth chart and finished with six tackles including 1.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks. It will be paramount for Feeney and company to tackle Mariota in space.
Key matchup when Washington has the ball:
I could be wrong, but this may be the game when the Huskies look to implement downfield throws to wide receivers Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins early. Oregon scores quickly thanks to big plays and it will be on the shoulders of the aforementioned trio to do the same for Washington. With that said, Smith has been the Huskies’ leading receiver this season and the responsibility for covering him could fall to the Ducks top cover corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Washington came three points and one first down away from potentially upending Stanford on the road. That game proved that they are capable of hanging with the nation’s best teams. Meanwhile, Oregon has yet to deal with an opponent that can push them for 60 minutes and that is precisely what the Ducks will face Saturday — a team that will frankly, come at them with their own medicine. How will Oregon respond? I expect the Huskies to feed off a rocking home crowd and keep this game close to the end, but will it come through with the statement win coach Sark and his team have been searching for? It all depends on the improvement made on special teams and the arm of Price.
Oregon 38, Washington 33
– Anthony Dion, 1090 The Fan
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