The Huskies’ previous win against the Ducks came in 2003, when Shelton Sampson, a Clover Park High graduate, and Kenny James both rushed for more than 100 yards in a 42-10 smacking at Husky Stadium. Two coaches later, Washington is yet to solve Oregon.
The 23rd-ranked Huskies (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pacific-12 Conference) will use their no-huddle offense and a resurrected defense when trying to change the harrowing pattern in Eugene, Ore., at 7:30 p.m. tonight against the No. 2 Ducks (5-0, 2-0).
Part of Washington’s plan against Stanford, which it upset 17-13 on Sept. 27, was to use a no-huddle offense. So, Washington’s defense has been practicing against that pace. Not the crazed tempo Oregon uses, but a brisker look than usual in practice.
“We challenged them quite a bit from a conditioning standpoint,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “But, then as soon as those no-huddle periods were done, we went to a lot of assignment/alignment (work) and challenged them mentally. So, we tried to give them both phases of that.’’
Like Stanford, Oregon’s consistent approach makes opposing defenses mentally and physically weary. Though Ducks coach Chip Kelly claims they do little different in the second half, Oregon has used the final 30 minutes to run away from Washington the past three games, outscoring the Huskies, 80-30.
“It’s tough because, literally, the ref is trying to put the ball down and the center is trying to snap it,” Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “The (first-down) chains are never even set. Unless they substitute, that’s the time you can substitute. If they don’t substitute, you’re going to have a really hard time because you’re going to have people running on and off.”
Which can lead to a single mistake. Which, with Oregon, often leads to a touchdown.
Running back/wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas is one of the fastest players in the country. He has just 31 carries yet has scored five times. Kenjon Barner, the every-down back, has an 80-yard touchdown run among his nine TDs. The Ducks have seven players with rushes of 17 yards or more. Washington has three.
Huskies safety Sean Parker played against Thomas in high school in the Los Angeles area. He knows what kind of problems Thomas can create.
“He just makes plays,” Parker said.
Which is something Washington did not do in its only other road game this season. The trip to Baton Rouge, La., resulted in a 41-3 loss to LSU. Sarkisian said he thinks that defeat is well behind his team.
“I really felt young coming out of LSU,” Sarkisian said. “So many times, when you’re young guys, when it’s good, it’s real easy to keep playing good, but when it’s hard, how do you respond?”
They responded well against Stanford. The Huskies’ defense, ranked second in the conference, held the Cardinal without an offensive touchdown.
But, the offense has struggled. Washington is 10th in scoring offense in the conference at 23.2 points per game. Per usual, Oregon has been rolling, scoring 52.4 points a game.
It’s going to be loud in Autzen Stadium tonight. Washington has a chance to snap a streak and step toward its best season in a decade. Or, the Ducks will continue their reign over what once was an even fight, huddles or not.
NO. 23 WASHINGTON (3-1 OVERALL, 1-0 PAC-12) AT NO. 2 OREGON (5-0, 2-0)
7:30 P.M., AUTZEN STADIUM, EUGENE, ORE.
TV: ESPN. RADIO: 950-AM, 850-AM, 102.9-FM
THE SERIES: Washington leads 58-41-5, and is 12-15 in Eugene (Oregon’s home games against the Huskies were played in Portland for several years). The Huskies are 31-20-4 against Oregon in Seattle. Washington has been a frequent visitor to Eugene in recent years. The 2009 game in Seattle was just the third in the decade (2003, 2007). They’ve met at Autzen in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008 (the teams didn’t play each other in 2001). The Ducks have won 13 of the past 17 and eight consecutive.
WHAT TO WATCH: How Washington’s offense can help its defense. Coming into the season, the Huskies’ offense was expected to be the power of the team. It’s not. The defense has been. Crucial against Oregon is giving the defense a breather by putting together successful drives to keep the game calm. If the Huskies end up in a dash instead of a marathon, they could be left in the dust.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: A huge step for Washington. This is the third time the Huskies have been ranked during the regular season under Steve Sarkisian. Each time, they lost the following week to drop out of the rankings. A road win against the Ducks would be a program marker.
THE PICK: Oregon, 34-24.
6De’Anthony Thomas (RB/WR)5-9/176Sophomore
Line up wrong? He’s gone. Miss a tackle? He’s gone. Give him the corner? He’s gone. Arizona and Washington State held him down. Can the Huskies?
24Kenjon Barner (RB)5-11/192Senior
Barner handles the grind for the Ducks. He’s also fast and consistent. Barner has run for 195 yards or more twice this season.
96Dion Jordan (DE)6-7/243Senior
He’s an athletic freak who has three sacks and four tackles for loss. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said Jordan has also grown into a leader.
46Michael Clay (LB)5-11/222Senior
Clay leads the Ducks in tackles, though he is dinged up. Clay hurt his ankle last week against Washington State. He said he will play tonight, however.
8Marcus Mariota (QB)6-4/211Freshman
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Mariota is the fastest Oregon quarterback of recent memory. He also completes 68.8 percent of his passes.
25Bishop Sankey (RB)5-10/200Sophomore
After breaking through against Stanford, Sankey’s ability to pound away against the Ducks will be crucial.
2Kasen Williams (WR)6-2/216Sophomore
Williams had his best game as a Husky against Stanford when he caught 10 passes for 129 yards and the winning touchdown. He’ll need to find vacant spots against Oregon’s defense.
Criste will be across the line from Dion Jordan much of the night, and that could mean trouble for Washington and quarteback Keith Price.
22Josh Shirley (DE)6-3/230Sophomore
This is a speed game, one that suits Shirley’s best abilities. He caused a fumble against Stanford, but was rarely heard from otherwise.
1Sean Parker (S)5-10/190Junior
Parker knows how fast De’Anthony Thomas is after playing against him in high school. He’ll be the only thing between Thomas and the end zone if Thomas turns the firstname.lastname@example.org @Todd_Dybas blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports email@example.com