Will Ducks finish decade of doom?

christian.caple@thenewstribune.comOctober 10, 2013 

Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas, running through a hole in Washington’s defense during the Ducks’ 52-21 victory last season, is questionable to face the Huskies on Saturday. Thomas sprained his right ankle on the opening kickoff Sept. 28 against California.

DON RYAN/AP FILE, 2012

The numbers are sobering and painfully easy to recall for University of Washington football fans.

It has been nine seasons since the Huskies last beat the University of Oregon’s football team. In a rivalry as heated as this one – a series the Huskies still lead 58-42-5 – that is an especially lengthy winning (and losing) streak. It is the longest streak by either team.

But the way the Ducks have done it is what frustrates Huskies fans most. Not only have they won nine consecutive times. They’ve won by a lot, they’ve won by a lot, and they’ve won by a lot.

The final, lopsided score of those nine games totals 391-158 in Oregon’s favor, an average score of 43.4 to 17.6 per game, and that’s exactly how close each of those contests has felt.

Oregon has scored 43 or more points in six of these games, and 50 or more in three. It has outgained the Huskies by an average of 476.6 yards to 287.1. It defeated UW in each of Tyrone Willingham’s four seasons as coach. It has defeated UW in each of Steve Sarkisian’s four seasons as coach, and the numbers haven’t changed much during his tenure.

So here comes the Oregon machine again on

Saturday, looking to make it an even 10 straight in a nationally televised game at Husky Stadium with ESPN’s College GameDay in attendance.

But this is a different Huskies team, one that started the season 4-1 and might still be undefeated if not for a handful of special-teams lapses and costly penalties in last week’s 31-28 loss to fifth-ranked Stanford.

UW plays defense now like it hasn’t in the last decade, ranking 10th nationally in total defense and 11th in scoring defense, allowing just a shade more than two touchdowns per game (14.8 ppg).

The Huskies are stronger up front, faster at linebacker and seasoned in the secondary. At season’s end, this could be deemed their best defense since the 1990s.

But are the Huskies better equipped to stop the Ducks?

“I think our players have improved,” said second-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. “I think we have a better understanding of our scheme. I think the guys are preparing extremely well.

“Again, it’s every week you do this. Whether it’s the first game of the season and we’re playing Boise State or we’re going to Illinois or we’re at home for Idaho State, it doesn’t change. I know that’s not the sexy answer that you want, but that’s the truth. You prepare the best, scheme-wise and personnel-wise, to play the team you’re playing. This week, that’s Oregon.”

This philosophy mimics the Ducks’ long-held belief that each opponent should remain faceless, that each week’s preparation should remain the same.

Still, the Huskies know they’ll be in for a fast-paced, tempo-centric game that will require both mental and physical speed on both sides of the football.

“That’s their entire game,” said fourth-year junior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha. “That’s what we face every day in our offense, so hopefully we expect it to be comparable to Oregon. So playing against each other here in practice should help us very much in our game.”

Sarkisian thinks his players’ improved conditioning should help them avoid the second-half Oregon runaways that have defined this losing streak.

“I think we’re a better conditioned football team than we’ve ever been in the past. I think we perform well in the second half,” Sarkisian said. “Thirdly, I think we’ll be a lot more comfortable in that environment and the speed they operate at, because of the speed that we operate at our offensive end.

“All of that being said, it’s still a very tall task. They’re a very good football team.”

EXTRA POINTS

The Pac-12 announced Wednesday that Washington’s Oct. 19 game at Arizona State will kickoff at 3 p.m. and air on the Pac-12 Networks. … Sarkisian said after Wednesday’s practice that freshman Darrell Daniels has shifted from receiver to tight end, where he will work through at least spring practices.

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple

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