The Huskies just another game?

After a big win on the road, Oregon's Mike Bellotti believes his 20th ranked Ducks will be motivated to take on the Washington Huskies at Autzen Stadium this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. At stake for the Ducks, is another step in the hunt for a Pac-10 championship and regardless of the fact the Ducks are 5-1 (2-1 Pac-10) for the season and the Huskies are 1-4 (0-2 Pac-10), the records may not truly reveal how good the two teams are.

Bellotti chose his words carefully in responding to the often-asked question about the Oregon-Washington rivalry. While there is no doubt that the fans and media are looking at the upcoming game as a big event, Bellotti regards the game as a big one too, but he made sure not to offend a couple of future opponents.

"I think certainly the rivalry is as great as any," Bellotti said of the Oregon-Washington rivalry. "There are a lot of fans that want me to say that Washington is a bigger rivalry than Oregon State and they're both huge, as is Washington State in all honesty. All three of our Pac-10 Northwest neighbors are huge rivalries. That is good because certainly coming off a big emotional victory on the road you might anticipate a let down, but I think Washington -- there are two things that factor into it. One, it is Washington. Two, they had a bye, so they've had an extra week of preparation for us and they are a better team than their record. They had a chance in two games (where) they led in the fourth quarter (that) got away from them. So they could have a very different record than they do."

Washington's head coach Ty Willingham took over this season as the headman and one of the things that was pointed out to him is the importance of the Oregon game.

"I think it was made very clear to me that this one is as big as our in-state rivalry with the Cougars," responded Willingham to the question during the Pac-10 weekly media conference that was streamed live on about how big the Oregon game is. "In asking that question, yes, I think we feel the intensity of the rivalry."

The Ducks were winners last Saturday over Arizona State, 31-17 in a nationally televised contest Oregon surprised everyone by demonstrating an impressive defense that stymied ASU's quarterback Sam Keller to just 277 yards, well below his then 358-yards per game average passing. Oregon was able to contain Keller in the pocket and on offense and was able to utilize a bigger and more physical offensive line to produce a strong running and passing attack. This week however, Oregon is facing a much different kind of quarterback in Washington's Isaiah Stanback. Stanback, according to Bellotti is a tremendous athlete that makes the Huskies a much better team than last year's dismal 1-10 team that finished at the bottom of the Pac-10 race.

"Their quarterback Isaiah Stanback," responded Bellottt to the question of what makes the Huskies better this year. "He's mobile, he's a much better quarterback. He's throwing the ball. Better decision-making, better efficiency and that makes it a better offense."

Stanback has had decent numbers, despite the poor record the Huskies have posted this year in the win-loss column. In five games, Stanback is 81-for-143, 1,229 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions and a 245.8-yard per game average. Stanback also has rushed a net 128 yards on 39 carries and scored two rushing touchdowns. Stanback is able to use his athletic ability to scramble, or he can tuck the ball away and be an extra running back out of the backfield.

"With his (Stanback) talents it is a rare skill to be able to do both of those well, to know the right time to run, and the right time to throw," said Willingham doing his weekly media conference. "But I think he is coming along very well in that area, when he masters that he has the chance to be very special."

Sonny Shackelford is the leading receiver for the Huskies with 19 catches for 285 yards (57.0 yards per game average) and one touchdown. The talented Craig Chambers has 14 catches for 321 yards (64.2 ypg) and two scores. Anthony Russo also has 14 receptions for 188 yards and tight end Johnny Kirton has 11 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Louis Rankin is the Huskies leading rusher with 81 carries for 401 yards and one touchdown. Overall the Huskies are averaging 257.4 yards per game running the ball and 159.6 yards per game passing for a total of 386 yards per game of offense.

Defensively, Washington is allowing 159.6 yards of rushing by opponents per game along with 256.4 yards of passing or 416 yards of total offense.

Oregon's spread offense is starting to hit on all cylinders as evidenced by the wins at ASU last week and the week before at Stanford. Senior quarterback Kellen Clemens is averaging 299 yards of passing on 139-of-233, 1,794 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. Clemens has six receivers that have double figure catches this year. Demetrius Williams is off on an all-Pac-10 pace with 36 catches for 680 yards (113.3 ypg) and six touchdowns. James Finley has 26 catches for 283 yards (47.2 average) and Terrence Whitehead has 22 catches despite being out for the Stanford game, and two touchdowns. Cameron Colvin has 11 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns and tight ends Dante Rosario and Tim Day both have 11 catches. Rosario also has scored twice on pass receptions. Overall, 16 Ducks have had at least one reception this year.

The rushing game got a big boost last for the Ducks in Tempe when senior Terrence Whitehead was able to return to full form. Whitehead has been bothered by injuries (strained hamstring and groin) but last week he put on a show by rushing for 122 yards and receiving for 100 yards. Whitehead's leadership has had a positive effect for the offense as a whole and for Oregon's three young backs, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson and Terrell Jackson in particular. After the game in Tempe last Saturday night, Whitehead said that he told his back ups to "make positive contributions every time they touch the ball." Oregon's running game statistically started off slowly but has been gaining momentum. The Ducks average 147.3 yards per game, but last week the Ducks had 256 yards of rushing. Overall the Ducks are averaging 473.5-yards per game of total offense. The spread offense of Oregon's offensive coordinator Gary Crowton is working and Willingham anticipates that the Duck offense will cause his defense some problems.

"When you say spread, I think that immediately identifies what is taking place," said Willingham. "It is about spreading the field. If you put an offense in a ten-yard box and half to defend it, it is easier than defending an offense in a 53-yard box and having to defend it. When you look at it from that standpoint, not only the skill level of the personnel, but the area you have to defend, it really stresses defense."

Oregon's defense is holding opponents to 371.5 yards of total offense but more significantly for the upcoming Husky game, only allowing opponents 106.3 yards of rushing offense. Willngham describes Oregon's two defensive line standouts, tackle Haloti Ngata and end Devan Long as a "wonderful inside and outside punch."

While the Ducks were battling ASU last week, the Huskies had the week off. Bellotti believes that gives the opponent a chance the rest, recuperate and work on some new things. Willingham took the time to accomplish four goals he had set out for his program.

"I've been on record as saying there were four things we wanted to accomplish," said Willingham. "One was to get healthy. Two was to give our younger players to get some game-like experience. Three, to try to prepare for upcoming opponents or opponent and of course four, to get out and do a little recruiting. I think we got better in all of those areas."

There are a couple of side stories to this upcoming football. For years the Huskies prided themselves in being able to recruit all of the best Northwest talent, but that has all changed. In fact for the last few years the Ducks have dipped into Washington and recruited some of the top gems including running back Jonathan Stewart. While this is not particularly unusual that a player might find the pastures greener at another location, there seems to be a lingering interest on the part of some about players that chose to move on from the state of Washington. Last year, just prior to school starting, quarterback Johnny DuRocher decided to transfer from Oregon. The Oregon coaches believe that DuRocher wanted to find a program that would give him more playing time. To the surprise of many, DuRocher enrolled at Washington last spring after spending a term at a community college. DuRocher had to sit out the first three games of the season and made his first appearance in Washington's loss to Notre Dame, (edited to reflect correct participation) in which he was 2-of-5 for 55 yards including one touchdown of 41 yards. Willingham thinks DuRocher has done well despite some difficult circumstances. Bellotti has no hard feelings nor does his team toward the signal caller from Bethel High School.

"As I understand it several of his roommates here still speak to him and talk to him," answered Bellotti to the question of whether there were any hard feelings toward Johnny DuRocher. "They call him. They have a friendly type thing going. No. I don't think anything about it. I think we all wished Johnny well when he left and we knew he wanted to find a situation where he'd get more playing time."

It would appear that Willingham slammed the door shut on any talk that Stewart was ever seriously interested in the Huskies. Despite some rumors that Stewart would head to Washington last winter, the Huskies could never get Stewart to do anything more than unofficially drop by one afternoon.

"You are never sure, until the young man is on campus. I think we had him up unofficially, if I am correct, in the recruiting process. I'm not sure if we got him there officially. So, therefore it is very difficult to believe you have a shot at him, but if you can get him to visit officially, you believe you have a shot at him. So, we were hoping, but it didn't work out," Willingham was quoted from his Monday media conference and posted on the official University of Washington Athletic department web site. v This Saturday's game will not be televised live, although the game will be rebroadcast by OSN on Comcast 14 in Portland at 11 p.m. on Saturday and on Sunday at 8 p.m. KEZI, KDRV and KDKF will show the game on a delayed basis in Eugene, Medford and Klamath Falls at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. Direct TV (channel 656) will show the game on Monday at 7:30 p.m. and ESPNU and DirecTV (Channel 609) at 10 p.m. on Wednesday.

The game will also be shown on Fox Sports Northwest (FSNW) at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night.

Cornerback Aaron Gipson practiced on Monday and should be ready to go. He had a concussion that kept him out of the ASU game. Linebacker A.J. Tuitele did run around during practice yesterday, but his status is still questionable for Saturday. Bellotti doubts Tuitele will play on Saturday and kicker Paul Martinez status is a game time decision.

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