Changes in Husky Week

It's that special time of the year. When fog starts slowing down traffic on I-5 and a No. 1 team is ready to trounce an outclassed, undermanned and beat up football team. For many painful years to Oregon fans that meant that the Washington Huskies were on the way to Autzen Stadium to extract another ounce of tribute from the Ducks. This may be Husky week, but times sure have changed.

This week, the BCS and AP's No. 1 team in the country – the Oregon Ducks (8-0, 5-0) are ready to host the Washington Huskies (3-5, 2-2) on a regionally televised broadcast on ABC starting at 12:30 p.m.

Sure, the Oregon fans are sitting back, smirking at the likely blood bath. Let's face it, Oregon has a six-game win streak going on and in that streak the Huskies haven't been able to get any closer than 20 points. This season, Washington fans started off the season hoping there might be a chance that their beloved Dawgs could pull off a miracle behind the strong arm and legs of senior quarterback Jake Locker and end what some Husky fans call "the nightmare of college football." There was even some mention that the ideal way of beating Oregon was to have a close game, coming down to the wire. Have quarterback Darron Thomas throw an out pattern, just so that a Husky cornerback could pick the ball off at say, the 3-yardline and run the ball back, and have Bob Rondeau sing out, "Desmond Trufant's gonna score…"

(For anyone not closely following the Oregon-Washington series for the last 50-years or so, that is a little play on words describing the infamous interception by Kenny Wheaton in October 22, 1994. Well, here, one picture is worth a thousand words (in this case, one video) The Pick, just in case you haven't seen it before.)

Times indeed have changed. Even though The Pick will be rolled out one more time on the Jumbo Screen just before kickoff to rev up the home crowd, the Oregon Ducks probably don't need any more motivation. Last week's beatdown of USC 53-32 in the LA Coliseum does that already. Oregon's statistical advantage over everyone in the Pac-10 is amazing. The Ducks lead the conference in scoring (54.9 ppg), total offense (572.9 ypg), rushing offense (308.8 ypg) and pass defense efficiency, or basically meaning the Ducks have intercepted 15 passes this season while allowing only seven touchdowns through the air.

Oregon running back LaMichael James is on everybody's Heisman candidate list with his 172.9 ypg rushing average, plus he is tied for the leading scorer in the conference with his 14 touchdowns rushing and one receiving. Thomas, the big question mark headed into the season, is now the conference's No. 2 passer in the pass efficiency category with 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Kicker Rob Beard is perfect on field goals and point after kicking and leads the Pac in both those statistics.

For Ducks fans, what's not to love?

Washington on the other hand, has had a very up-and-down season; losing to the likes of BYU (23-17), Nebraska (56-21), but in conference play they beat USC for the second year in a row 32-31 and broke Oregon State's six-game win streak with a 35-34 win. Then they got pummeled by Arizona (44-14), and were humiliated last week by Stanford, 41-0. Husky Head Coach Steve Sarkisian calls the Stanford loss the "low point" of the season.

Now things are even a bit bleaker for the once-proud Husky program. They have to come to Oregon without their best player, Locker, who is sitting this game out with cracked ribs. One of Locker's biggest fans though won't be too unhappy the Husky signal caller is sidelined.

"I'm a big fan of Jake," said Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly of Locker. "I think he's a special player. I don't know how many guys would do what he did. He turned down a lot of money to go to the NFL to return to Washington for his senior season."

Locker's replacement, Keith Price, is a player the Ducks are familiar with through the recruiting process, even though there isn't too much to appraise since he's entered the collegiate ranks.

"We know Keith a little bit from the recruiting process," remarked Kelly about Price. "He's only got nine passes for the season. He was red-shirted. He's 5-of-9, he came in against USC and threw a touchdown pass."

"He's got a nice release, but we really don't have a ton of tape," admitted Kelly."It is like when people were trying to prepare for Darron (Thomas) at the beginning of the season because there isn't a lot of film to look at."

Kelly believes that the Huskies run a lot of different sets in their offense, with one or two-back sets, two tight ends and even a wildcat formation. Whether Washington will do so with a less experienced quarterback remains to be seen, but as far as Kelly is concerned Price fills the bill physically to do what that Husky coaches call upon him to do.

"I don't know if they will drastically change their offense," observed Kelly of what Washington might do next Saturday. "He (Price) fits the mode of what they do."

Would the Huskies take a little of the pressure off of Price by utilizing more of Chris Polk, the Dawgs' talented running back? "Good question," Kelly responded to an inquiry on the subject. Obviously it is something Oregon's coaching staff has considered as Polk has had a decent season rushing for four scores and averaging 81.6 ypg. His longest run of the season was for 52 yards, so he has the capability of breaking off a big play.

"A very tough, physical runner," said Kelly describing Polk. "Very rarely does the first guy tackle and get him to the ground."

Kelly believes the Duck defense will have to get "a lot of guys around" Polk to get him down.

Really though, the Oregon headman doesn't expect too much to change in terms of what Washington is going to do or what Oregon is going to do. With the season into November, things are pretty well established as to what to expect.

"We're going to run our defense," said Kelly on what might the Ducks do in defending a new Husky quarterback. "When you are going into your ninth game of the season, it's not all of a sudden ‘let's do this.' We're going to do what we do and they are going to do what they do and we'll figure out how it works."

During his weekly media conference on Tuesday, Kelly opened up a little bit about a subject he rarely gets into – recruiting. The coach was responding to questions about what could he glean from his recruitment of Price that would help him now in preparing a game plan for this Saturday. Kelly doesn't think that there is too much that can be picked up from high school highlights, and taking it a step further Kelly elaborated how recruits can change coaches' minds once they arrive on campus.

"There are so many times when you recruit a guy and he comes to your program and you say ‘wow, he's a lot better than I thought he was," said Kelly. "We didn't talk a lot about Kenjon Barner. He was the 23rd or 24th kid in that recruiting class. Then he got here and the argument was where are we going to play him…Then there are times when there is a high-profile kid and he wasn't what you thought he would be."

Incidentally, Barner who has been sidelined since the Washington State game is back in practice, going full-speed, even though he is still wearing a non-contact jersey.

Husky week is always something special for the Ducks and their fans. Even though Kelly is familiar with the history, to him the only history he has with this Washington squad is the game last season (Sarkisian's first year) in which the Ducks won, 43-19. Kelly's mantra since he has been at Oregon is 'Win The Day' and according to the Oregon top-duck his players remain focused on the task at hand.

"These kids love playing football," Kelly said of his team, a group that have "no fears" when it comes to opponents.

This week, even though the opposition is a bit down, Kelly keeps reminding his team that being No. 1 means little if they don't win the next game. For Duck fans a win against Washington might be particularly tasty, but for Kelly it is just another rung of a ladder and a sign of just how much things have changed at Oregon.


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