Feathers and Fur

For the first time in ten years neither the Ducks nor the Huskies will be ranked in the Top 25 when they line up against each other for a 7:00 p.m. football game this Saturday in Husky Stadium. The last time both teams were ranked when they met was September 30, 2000 when the No. 20 Ducks beat the No. 6 Huskies 23-16 in Autzen Stadium. <br><br> Not to say that there isn't any skin in the game for these teams this year. Quite the contrary - each team is fighting for its basic survival.

The Ducks, 5-3 and 2-2 in the Pac-10 Conference must win two of its four remaining games to achieve a winning record and a bowl berth. The Huskies, 4-4 and 2-2 in the Pac-10 Conference must win three of its four remaining games. The Ducks get its shots against Washington, California (4-5), UCLA (6-2), and Oregon State (5-3). The Huskies get its chances against Oregon, Arizona (1-7), California, and Washington State (7-1). On paper, neither team can state this is the most challenging game remaining on its schedule.

Oh, but then there's the rivalry.

It dates back to 1900 and spans 95 games. Since 1922 the teams have met every year except 1943-44 due to World War Two and 2001 due to a scheduling oddity. Since the 2001 miss, the schools have indicated that they would like to continue the match-up even through the Pac-10 Conference rotation where teams miss one conference game per year (this year Oregon is missing USC while Washington is missing Arizona State.) From the Oregon perspective, Washington represents Oregon's biggest rivalry next to Oregon State, a team Oregon has played 106 times. Oregon's next most frequent opponent over the years has been Washington State, which has played Oregon 80 times.

The overall record has not been kind to Oregon, trailing Washington 57-33-5. In fact, Washington has beaten Oregon in six consecutive games four different times over the years including 1908-14, 1955-60, 1974-79, and 1981-1986. The most consecutive wins Oregon has been able to put together against Washington are four, dating back to 1928-31. The worst losses in the series came on consecutive years with Oregon beating Washington 58-0 in Eugene in 1973 and Washington returning the favor 66-0 in Seattle in 1974.

That all said, over the last eight years, since Mike Bellotti took over the head coaching responsibilities at Oregon, the Ducks lead the series 4-3. The unranked Huskies won last year 42-14 against No. 23 Oregon and celebrated for over 30 minutes in the center of Autzen Stadium directly following the game, something the Ducks are using as additional motivation going into this year's game. In 1997, Oregon receiver Pat Johnson made some comments about the rivalry using the word "hate" prior to an Oregon 31-28 win in Husky Stadium. The Huskies then condemned the Oregon coaching staff of preaching hatred to their players. In 2000, Oregon handed Washington its only loss of the season, keeping them out of the national championship game. Two recruiting classes ago, then-Husky coach Rick Neuheisel cried foul concerning Oregon coaches, among other Pac-10 coaches, overturning Washington verbal commitments received from coveted recruits. There was also the spat over the Duck Vision video segment played on the giant screen in Autzen Stadium that associated Neuheisel with vomiting. When Neuheisel was singled out for illegal recruiting practices including sitting in his car outside of a recruit's house then calling from his cell phone and suggesting the recruit go to a window so that he might wave to him all during a period when in-person visits weren't allowed, it was Oregon that was rumored to have squealed.

But these are all recent memories. Contrary feelings for the Huskies run deep for the Ducks. In 1948 with Oregon winning all of its conference games achieving a 9-1 record after only losing to Michigan in the regular season, the Ducks were denied the Rose Bowl on a vote from all of the conference schools. California, which Oregon did not play that year, was the school elected to go. In those days there were strong regional sympathies. When the vote came out, all of the Northwest schools (in 1948, Idaho and Montana were part of the conference) had voted in Oregon's favor except Washington, and Washington's vote swung the balance of the votes to California.

No, there is no love loss between Oregon and Washington.

And, it will be that and the fact that the teams appear to be evenly matched this year that should create a memorable game. In the 20 statistical categories that the NCAA tracks over the games played to date, Oregon leads Washington 9-8-3. The Ducks are better in rushing offense and rushing defense while the Huskies are better in passing offense and passing defense. Oregon is better in passing efficiency while Washington is better in passing efficiency defense. Oregon leads in total and scoring offense and Washington leads in total and scoring defense. Washington leads in net punting and punt returns and Oregon leads in kick returns. The Ducks narrowly lead in turnover margin with two more fumble recoveries, but the Huskies have one more interception gained. Both teams have 20 turnovers lost (10 interceptions and 10 fumbles.) The teams' field goal kickers appear to be even with Oregon's Jared Siegel hitting 6 of 10 and Washington's Evan Knudson going 9 of 14. Oregon ranks in the Top 20 in one statistical category – No. 10 in rushing defense limiting teams to just 85 yards per game average. Washington ranks No. 21 in passing offense averaging 278 yards per game, and No. 20 in punt returns with 13 yards per game and one touchdown. Although Oregon only ranks No. 42 in punt returns with a 10-yard average, it has recorded two touchdowns off of punts. Washington's receivers Reggie Williams and Charles Frederick rank No. 14 and No. 60 nationally averaging 97 and 73 yards per game and 7 and 3 touchdowns respectively. Oregon has the No. 35 and No. 36 receivers in the all the land with Samie Parker and Demetrius Williams who are averaging 84.6 and 84.3 yards per game and 3 and 6 touchdowns respectively.

What can the teams' past games tell us? There are only two previous common opponents. Oregon beat Nevada at home 31-23 while Washington lost to Nevada at home 17-28. The Ducks beat Stanford at home 35-0 as the Huskies beat the Cardinal at home 28-17. Oregon has what you might consider a quality win against Michigan. Washington beat Oregon State on the road. Washington has played a tougher schedule including games at Ohio State, UCLA and Oregon State with USC at home. The Dawgs went 1-3 against these teams. The Ducks have really only had one tough road opponent in 6-2 Utah where they lost 13-17. Oregon's other losses against Washington State and 4-4 Arizona State were horrific blowouts averaging 42 points in losing margin. Washington's worse losing margin was 30 points against UCLA.

The Huskies should have an advantage getting the Ducks within the friendly confines of Husky Stadium, but Oregon has won two of the last three games played there. Washington appears to be a more seasoned team with 53 players either seniors or juniors. Oregon only lists 38 upperclassmen on its team. If the weather is inclement it might favor the Ducks who appear to have the better rushing offense and defense. Also, Oregon might be healthier than Washington after utilizing a bye week before last week's Stanford game. Washington is coming off a tough and physical game against USC. Concerning the quarterbacks, Washington's Cody Pickett has thrown three interceptions for touchdowns in the last four games. If Pickett struggles, Washington's options are more limited than Oregon's which can equally play Jason Fife or Kellen Clemens depending upon who has the hottest hand or is making the fewest mistakes. Oregon will have to find a way to contain Washington's All America receiver Reggie Williams. This will be no easy task with Oregon' best cornerback Steven Moore hobbled by a sprained ankle sustained in the Stanford game and most of Oregon's defensive backs giving up more than half a foot in height to Williams. Washington's offensive line will have to contend with Oregon's defensive line, which is emerging to be one of the best in the conference. For Williams to make a difference in the game, Pickett must find a way to get him the ball. This may be difficult if Oregon's pass rush can harass Pickett consistently throughout the game. Special teams play and turnovers will probably tilt this game in favor of one team or the other. The oddsmakers favor Washington by 1½ points. I think the team that plays with the most fire and intensity will come out on top. The loser will be in for very long season.

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