An nine-and-a-half point spread favors the Dawgs as they head south to face off with their arch-rival Oregon Ducks. Coming off a routing of Stanford, momentum is on Washington’s side. But this matchup goes beyond this year’s records for both squads. The Ducks have won each of the last 12 meetings, a streak that they intend to keep alive. Whether or not either side feels more of a psychological burden when this game rolls around, the fans do. And if the Huskies have learned one major lesson this year, it’s that a PAC-12 road game is tough to win, regardless of what Vegas says.
The Ducks, on the other hand, have a little more uncertainty on their side of the ball. Word of Justin Herbert getting the nod of quarterback hit Twitter on Tuesday, a rumor that Oregon has not confirmed. Could it be the change the 2-3 Ducks need? Will the change even happen? We’ll find out on Saturday. However, one thing is for certain. Whoever takes the field dawning the ‘Webfoot’ throwbacks will be ready to fight to earn their 13th straight victory over their neighbors to the north.
Here’s a look at some of the players that could make a difference:
PLAYERS TO WATCH
#9 SR 6’2” 205-pound QB Dakota Prukop
2016 stats: 92 of 139 for 1173 yards, 66.2% completion, 8 TD, 2 INT, 52 carries for 217 yards, 3.0 YPC, 1 TD, 265.6 total YPG
Scoop: Yes, the rumor is that Prukop will sit in favor of freshman Justin Herbert, but you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. Besides, even if Herbert got the start, I would be shocked if Dakota didn’t see the field; he’s quarterbacked an offense that’s putting up 40 points per game after all. The intention with bringing Prukop in from Montana State as a graduate transfer was to follow the footsteps of Vernon Adams. He was expected to come in and provide balance to a potent rushing attack by adding the potential to make some noise through the air. And to be honest, he’s done a solid job of that so far, at least statistically speaking. The Ducks are fourth in passing efficiency and Prukop is fifth in the conference in total passing yards. However, in Oregon’s three-game losing skid, he has averaged 190.3 passing yards per game, and has thrown only two touchdowns while throwing a pair of picks. The bottom line is Dakota Prukop is a good athlete who can get the ball out effectively, hitting his playmakers Charles Nelson and Darren Carrington. Whether or not he starts, expect to see some Prukop Saturday.
#10 FR 6’6” 225-pound QB Justin Herbert
2016 stats: 3 of 5 for 70 yards, 1 carry for 4 yards, 1 rushing TD
Scoop: A Duck from the local pond, Justin Herbert did it all for Sheldon high school. He was a second-team all-state first baseman, solid pitcher, and even dabbled in basketball. However, it’s his football prowess that landed him a scholarship at the University of Oregon. In the midst of a big loss to Washington State Herbert got a drive late in the fourth quarter, marching his team downfield before punching in a four yard touchdown with his legs. Herbert is a gifted athlete, but his biggest asset is his arm. It looks like he has the tools to be a future stud, but is his time to shine already here? The Twitterverse believes he’ll be the one under center Saturday night. Whether the intent is to start developing him to be the starter of the future or if the Ducks are hoping he could be the change that turns this season around, a date with the fifth-ranked Huskies will be a tough first start without a doubt. Again, it hasn’t been confirmed that he’ll start, but just like I said with Prukop, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out there regardless of who gets the nod.
#21 JR 5’11” 230-pound RB Royce Freeman
2016 stats: 56 carries for 463 yards, 8.3 YPC, 7 TD
Scoop: What can’t Freeman do? Just by looking at him you can tell he’s a big, physical back that’s nearly impossible to tackle. Then you watch him play and you see how patient he is and how well he moves for his size. In fact, Husky Defensive Backs Coach Jimmy Lake went so far to say that Royce Freeman is the most complete true running back in college football. The potency of Oregon’s 40-point per game offense begins with their workhorse.
#20 SO 5’9” 185-pound RB Tony Brooks-James
2016 stats: 39 carries for 271 yards, 6.9 YPC, 6 TD
Scoop: Sophomore speedster Tony Brooks-James is the perfect compliment to Royce Freeman. He really emerged as a key contributor for the offense when Freeman went down against Nebraska, scoring four touchdowns in the two game stretch during which he was the primary running back. Even with a healthy Freeman, Brooks-James should make a big impact as the lightning quick, change of pace back with speed to burn.
#7 JR 6’2” 205-pound WR Darren Carrington
2016 stats: 21 receptions for 304 yards, 14.5 YPC, 3 TD
Scoop: Husky coaches, fans, and players all know who Darren Carrington, or at least they should. He returned from a six-game suspension last year just in time to take on the Dawgs, and he was nothing shy of dominant, hauling in five passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Physically, he’s a lot to handle on the edge; his size and athleticism are a tough cover for opposing corners. It should be fun to watch him battle the likes of Sidney Jones, Darren Gardenhire, and Kevin King.
#6 JR 5’9” 170-pound WR Charles Nelson
2016 stats: 24 receptions for 240 yards, 10.0 YPC, 1 kick return TD
Scoop: With regards to versatility, Charles Nelson is one of the most gifted players in the country. He lines up in the slot for the Ducks, but has taken more than 15 carries in his career, chalked up eight consecutive starts at safety last year, returns punts and kicks, and is even listed as the backup holder on Oregon’s depth chart. I’m confident in saying he’s the most dangerous backup holder in the PAC-12. All joking aside, he’s been a very reliable target across the middle for Prukop this year. He’s dangerous with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his 20.2 yards per punt return and kick return touchdown. His versatility, dependability, and big-play ability make him a fun player to watch.
#50 6’1” 305-pound DT Austin Maloata
2016 stats: 21 totoal tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks
Scoop: Maloata played as a true freshman in 2014, and he’s been waiting patiently since then to get a crack as a starter. That opportunity came this year and he’s taken advantage. The loss of DeForest Buckner was obviously crushing, but Maloata has done his part in softening the blow.
#35 6’4” 225-pound LB Troy Dye
2016 stats: 27 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT
Scoop: Graduating from Norco High School paid off big time for Troy Dye, who finds himself leading the missed last weekend’s matchup with Washington State. Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich insisted that his absence was unrelated to discipline, so we’ll see if whatever kept him out last week subsides in time for Saturday. If it does, the Ducks get back a rangy athlete on the edge and their defense’s best playmaker thus far.
#2 JR 6’4” 205-pound CB Tyree Robinson
2016 stats: 27 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 pass breakups
Scoop: Another rangy and versatile athlete, Robinson is one of the most experienced players in the secondary. He began his career as a safety, but transitioned to corner last year. He brings natural size and physicality to the corner position, which has earned him praise from Husky Receivers Coach Bush Hamdan.
#1 5’11” 205-pound CB Arrion Springs
2016 stats: 24 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 7 pass breakups,
Scoop: Bush Hamdan also gave his praise to Arrion Springs en route to calling the Ducks secondary one of the best they’ll face this year. In terms of coverage, Springs is the best the Ducks have. On top of that, he employs a relatively physical style, as modeled by his three tackles for loss.
#43 6’2” 190-pound S Brenden Schooler
2016 stats: 26 total tackles, 2 INT
Scoop: Another true freshman starter, Schooler wasted no time making an impact. He adds more size to an already pretty big secondary, which has three starters at six feet or taller. His emergence helped settle some uncertainty in the secondary.
What the Oregon Offense Looks Like
The Ducks have essentially run the same offense since Chip Kelly was hired in 2009. Obviously there were changes when Kelly moved on and Mark Helfrich took over, but they still run their patented high-tempo offense.
They love to spread the ball out, giving their playmakers space to do damage. It’s a run first offense, handing the ball off nearly 60 percent of the time, but there are plenty of weapons in the pass game to justify throwing the ball as well.
Statistically, it’s hard to poke holes in what the Ducks have done thus far; they’re scoring 40 points per game and are leading the conference in rushing offense. Royce Freeman is one of the highest touted backs in the country, and he has great compliments in Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit. Outside, Darren Carrington is an ideal number one receiver in terms of size and strength, while Charles Nelson is a weapon in space.
The only question is at quarterback. Rumors indicate that it will be Justin Herbert under center Saturday. He and Dakota Prukop are both good athletes with capable arms, so I don’t think the offense will look any different regardless of who plays. Herbert’s lack of experience would suggest they might try to simplify things for him, but I doubt that would happen considering it’s a rivalry game against a top-five team. No matter who plays, this is still a dangerous offense.
What the Duck Defense Looks Like
The signing of defensive coordinator Brady Hoke brought hope to a struggling Oregon defense that lost it’s best player in DeForest Buckner. However, five games into 2016 and things haven’t gotten better yet for the Ducks.
That partially has to be attributed to the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4, forcing all the new players to learn a new scheme with new responsibilities. That, plus a lot of inexperience, has resulted in a defense that’s allowed 16 rushing touchdowns and 36.2 yards per game. That being said, the unrest defensively has allowed for some playmakers to emerge.
The strength of the defense is the secondary. Tyree Robinson and Arrion Springs are both experienced and talented corners who should test Jake Browning and his receivers as much as anybody they’ve faced this year. The Ducks have two new starters at safety, and while they’ve played fine, that appears to be the weakest part of the group.
With the offensive production for Oregon so far and the existence of solid players on defense, it makes you wonder if the defense has a chance to step up sometime soon. If they do, Oregon could go back to being a tough team to beat. But, like Chris Petersen said Thursday, football is a game of confidence and momentum. After a 51-33 loss to the Washington State Cougars, it’s hard to imagine either of those are on the Ducks’ side.
Keys to the Game
1. Slow down the run - To be blunt, the Ducks have allowed teams to run all over them this year. Meanwhile, the Huskies have found their stride running the football, scoring six touchdowns on the ground the last two weeks. The battle between the Husky offensive line and the Duck defensive line will be one of the biggest of the game, because the winner of that matchup will have a huge impact on the game overall.
2. Take care of the football - Washington will roll into Eugene with the highest turnover margin in the PAC-12, as well as the top scoring offense. I’m not a math major, but giving the, statistically, most potent offense in the PAC-12 more chances than necessary to score against a struggling defense doesn’t really add up when trying to win.
3. Go for it - With three losses already, the College Football Playoffs and Rose Bowl are out of reach already for Oregon, but nothing salvages a season like knocking off a rival, especially one en route to their best season in well over a decade. I have a hard time believing that Oregon won’t be ready to give their 110 percent effort.
1. Stay composed - It’s hard to imagine a 12-year losing streak doesn’t play with players’ minds. How could it not? This is Washington’s shot to show how disciplined they are.
2. Get up early - I don’t care if the Duck defense is allowing 36.2 points per game: a shootout with Oregon still isn’t a good idea. A touchdown and a field goal of buffer would appeal to and relieve Husky Nation in the biggest way.
3. Stop the run - Washington has played two run-heavy teams in the last two weeks. Arizona ran all over the Dawgs and nearly pulled off an upset. Then the Huskies stymied Stanford and proceeded to beat a top-10 team by 38. It’s not hard to see how big an impact taking a team out of their rhythm on the ground. The impact could be doubled with a true freshman starting at quarterback.