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Optimism is high on the Huskies side this week, but they face a daunting opponent in the undefeated Ducks who they haven't beaten in Eugene since 2002..
Oh how things can change in one week.
Husky fans went into last Thursday's game with Stanford filled with dread and questioning if they were ever going to be able to compete with the current big boys of college football. One 17-13 win later and the fan base has been pumped full of as much optimism as has been circulating around Seattle since the 2010 Holiday Bowl or the 2009 upsetting of USC. Suddenly winning a game at second-ranked Oregon doesn't seem as impossible as it used to, and suddenly even a light blowout at the hands of the Ducks will be a disappointment.
Other than maybe drawing a road game at Alabama, or LSU (We already know how that went), I don't think I could pick a tougher game to follow up Washington's win over Stanford than with a road game at Oregon. Not only are the Ducks one of the best teams in the country, but their style couldn't be any further from that of Stanford's in personnel, tempo and scheme (Both teams do like to run and blitz you to death, but they do it in completely different ways). Stanford is big and strong up front with limited skill players, move methodically and pretty much make it clear exactly what they want to do and dare you to stop it while the Ducks are smaller up front but fast with an infinite amount of quick skill players to rotate in, push the tempo faster than anyone in the sport of football and never let you know what they are doing.
Utilizing their speed and exploiting Stanford's predictable play calling, the Huskies defense was able to play a flawless game and was greatly aided by the inefficiency of a quarterback making his first start on the road, and the offense did just enough to squeak out the win. Now, just nine days later, the defense will have to play another flawless game, against a much more dynamic offense, without the help of a home crowd, and the offense will have to really step up in a hostile environment, just to keep it close. So while it is not an ideal follow up game to a huge win, we will definitely know if the Huskies have arrived if they can make it a game down in Eugene on Saturday.
What most Husky fans think will happen
The Husky defense was tailor made to stop Oregon, Justin Wilcox has shut them down before and the Ducks haven't looked quite as dynamic on offense as they have in recent years, especially at quarterback, so the Huskies have a chance. The Huskies offense has a tough time early, the offensive line unable to get a run game going and giving up pressure, while the crowd noise makes it even harder for Keith Price on top of all that. However, the defense shows up early, and is able to contain the run due to Marcus Mariota's limitations and the fact that they know it is coming, but the Huskies give up a score on the ground and a field goal. The Huskies offense is able to move the ball a little bit and catches Oregon in some blitzes for some big runs for Bishop Sankey. The score is low and close at the half.
The Ducks are able to finally find some holes in the Husky defense in the second half and pull out to a lead, but the Huskies offense gets on track and keeps it within reach until the fourth quarter. It then begins to look a lot like last year's game in Husky Stadium, where the Ducks can move the ball, but aren't scoring at will, but the Huskies offense struggles to generate much of anything.
The Huskies defense is able to keep it from getting embarrassing and the offense scores another touchdown late, but the D is simply too gassed as their second straight slugfest against a devastating running game winds down.
Oregon 33 Washington 20
What most Oregon fans think will happen
Stanford's offense is nowhere near as explosive or unpredictable as Oregon's and the Huskies won't be prepared from the get go. The Ducks have floundered early in their first two conference games, but with a now ranked Washington team coming to town, they will be ready once the game starts and get a few scores in the opening quarter while the Huskies offense can't even get passes off in the same way they couldn't against Stanford due to the home crowd and blitzing linebackers.
The Ducks score touchdowns on a few more big plays to make the game more than comfortable and then go into cruise control the rest of the way with backups getting the majority of the snaps in the second half. Once again, the defense looks just as impressive as the offense and the Ducks defend their #2 ranking well.
Oregon 48 Washington 6
What will probably happen
The Huskies are more than due to beat the Ducks and I think this season is the best they have matched up with them since Keith Gilbertson was coaching in Seattle, but they couldn't have been given a tougher setup for the game. The Ducks look a little bit vulnerable, but will be almost impossible to beat with a home crowd behind them and a Husky team that is coming off a huge emotional win that they had to fight out to the very end.
The Huskies vastly improved defense has been waiting for this game for a long time now and slows Oregon's offense early by keying on the run and daring Mariota to pass on them. The first half looks a lot like the first half of Oregon's game against Arizona but with the Huskies shooting themselves in the foot less than the Wildcats did and getting some points on the board while also picking off Mariota a time or two. The game is close at the half, but it feels like Oregon can break it open at any moment.
And breaking it open is precisely what the Ducks do in the second half, actually scoring on a couple of passes where they catch Washington selling out to the run, while the Huskies frustrations on offense keep them from keeping up. A bit demoralized, the Huskies defense lets up and gives up a couple more scores to make the Ducks win look even more impressive on paper.
Oregon 45 Washington 13
The factors that will make or break the game
A dollar requires four quarters - A lot of teams have been able to play with the Ducks for a couple of quarters in the past few years, but no one in the Pac-12 has really been able to hang with the Ducks for a complete games. The last two Pac-12 teams who beat the Ducks (USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2009) literally had to build large leads and then hang on for dear life as they melted down in the fourth quarter. I think the Husky defense does actually match up with the Ducks offense fairly well, but will they be able to match their endurance and speed in the second half? Especially just a week after a grueling game with Stanford? They will only have a shot if they can.
Mariota Time - It seems strange to say it, but the Huskies defense will probably be the best that the Ducks have faced this season, and with that in mind, they will need freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota to step up his game if they hope to dismiss the Huskies with ease. Mariota has put up good numbers, but his lack of passing skills have really allowed defenses to key on the Ducks running game and slow them down early in games. He will probably be able to get away with it for another week with the game taking place in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium, but his struggles in the passing game will eventually cost the Ducks a game when they are on the road or playing an elite team.
Sometimes a good offense is the best defense - One of the underrated aspects of the Oregon offense is how much pressure it puts on the opposing offense to keep up and to not make mistakes. You see it week in and week out when the Ducks score and the opposing offense immediately starts looking frantic and pushes too hard, usually resulting in a turnover or sloppy play. The Huskies offense is still severely hamstringed with a shaky offensive line, so they will probably be forced to play conservative anyways, but they need to make sure and not force the issue if they fall behind and focus on long, sustained drives.
There won't be much fallout from the loss, but the fact that it will make nine straight losses to the Ducks for the Huskies is incredibly sobering and a testament to just how efficient the Ducks are under Chip Kelly. The Ducks have beat up on pretty much everyone in the conference recently, but have especially handled the Huskies due to just how tight the Ducks play and how sloppy the Huskies have been across the board. The Huskies are getting better against the Ducks, but just aren't quite there yet.
Husky fans certainly aren't pleased with yet another loss to the Ducks, but they understand that this probably isn't the year that they would be able to end the streak and are still glowing a little bit from the Stanford win while looking forward to a USC game that looks much more winnable than it did just a few weeks ago. Husky fans will quickly forget the loss as they look forward to the USC game which gives them a much better shot at going 2-1 against the Pac-12's current powers than their trip to Eugene did.