Whoa, Nellie. Here come the Dawgs

GIRD THY LOINS, Coug fans. Washington's Huskies, pulling a rare victory out of Autzen Stadium on Saturday, have their swagger back and will be hell bent on making their November march through the Northwest a perfect sweep when <b>Rick Neuheisel</b> brings his resurgent act to Pullman next week.

Suddenly, the stakes in the 95th renewal of the Apple Cup will be high for both sides.

The Pac-10 title, of course, awaits the Cougars if they win. But for the 6-5 Huskies there's the ignoble fate of being one of the few UW clubs over the last quarter-century to finish without a winning record. Victory also assures them what seemed impossible before they launched their rampage over the Oregon schools: A bowl-game invitation.

In crushing the favored and No. 23-ranked Ducks 42-14 on Saturday, the Huskies looked like the high-flying team everyone thought they'd be when the season began.

After a first quarter in which they fell behind 14-0, the Dawgs --- on both sides of the ball --- never looked back. The defense stifled Oregon's O --- to the point that Duck QB Jason Fife completed just 3 of 19 passes following his 7 of 10 first quarter.

On offense, the notoriously ho-hum running game came to life, racking up 160 net yards --- 117 from Rich Alexis. That forced the Duck D to play honest all day. And the results were devastating for Oregon. Reggie Williams caught 14 Cody Pickett passes for 196 yards and three TDs.In the process, the sophomore Williams broke Mario Bailey's Husky record for career receiving yards and Pickett eclipsed Ryan Leaf's Pac-10 single-season record for passing yards.

Against the Cougars next week, Pickett will be gunning to become the first QB in Pac-10 history to toss for 4,000 yards in one season.

The Huskies' work against the Ducks also worked against the Cougars in the byzantine BCS rating system. The Ducks, by virtue of the Husky loss, no longer qualify as a "quality win" for the 9-1 Cougars, who entered the weekend a precarious No. 3 in the BCS.

More concerning for Coug fans, though, should be the fact the Huskies are playing their best football since losing that nail-biter at Michigan in Week One.

Indeed, an Apple Cup that many a national pundit were all but giving the Cougars a few weeks ago now is shaping up like a donnybrook --- especially so in light of the fact the Cougars struggled at home to beat these same Ducks while the Huskies rolled in hostile Eugene, albeit wtihout the worry of injured Onterrio Smith or Fife being any where near his standard level of accuracy.

Washington has scored 83 points their last two games, having thumped Oregon State 41-29 a week ago.

They've piled up an average of 384 yards. And on defense, they've come up with nine turnovers in the two games.

At Oregon, the Huskies also accomplished something they haven't done in more than a year: Win a road game. Not since ASU in Tempe last October have the Dawgs won away from Husky Stadium.

Now it's on to Pullman for a clash that many folks last summer predicted would be for the Pac-10 crown. It still is for the Cougars. And for the Huskies, it's a final chance at redemption for a season that got off track in Ann Arbor.

Either way, it's looking like the paint swappin' will be at its all-time best.

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