PREVIEW: UW/UO 2004

Though the two places share the same initials, the distance between Rock Bottom and (the) Rose Bowl is as vast as the two teams that we saw toiling on the L.A. Coliseum grass last Saturday afternoon.

Washington (0-4, 1-6) at Oregon (3-1, 4-3)
Saturday, October 30 - 4:05 PM (PST) – FOX SPORTS NET
Autzen Stadium – Eugene, OR (58,000)
Series All-time: Washington leads, 58-33-5
Last Meeting: November 7, 2003 – Washington 42, Oregon 10
Line: Oregon by 20


For Washington, it's no longer a question of where Rock Bottom is. Top-ranked USC dispatched the Huskies and dismissed all of those various non-losing and shutout streaks with frightening ease.

Consider Rock Bottom located and entered, with the gas gauge on fumes. Now it's a question of how far away the exit ramp lies.

And if the Oregon Ducks can help it, it won't be anywhere near the 194B Exit in Eugene. For that matter, they probably wouldn't mind if the Huskies took up residence at this particular RB lot for a good while longer.

Though embarrassed by Washington the previous two years, the heavily-favored Ducks are showing the same scripted respect as any upper-division team would show a basement-dweller – warning themselves that their beleaguered border buddies could potentially swoop down to sold-out Autzen Stadium and unveil something they haven't shown all season.

A solid game.

"I think they're a really good team," Haloti Ngata told the Oregonian on Monday, "and they'll be bringing their ‘A' game." Kellen Clemens echoed the same sentiment almost word-for-word. We assume that both players kept a straight face.

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti is similarly succinct – and almost contrite - when describing the current Husky fortunes and their pending visit on Saturday. "(Washington) seems unsettled at quarterback, and that's difficult. We don't know which team will show up, because they run significantly different offenses based on who's at quarterback."

"But we haven't played well against Washington the past two years," Bellotti warns his Ducks. "So my own concerns are in that regard."

A rivalry it may be, but the fact is that Oregon is starting to fire on all cylinders now, while the Huskies haven't been able to find their keys, let alone start the bus. Oregon has spring-boarded a 27-point fourth quarter in Pullman into three consecutive PAC-10 victories, two of them on the road. Depending on this Saturday's Arizona State-California outcome, next week's Duck migration to Berkeley could be highly significant to their blossoming Holiday Bowl hopes.

Provided, of course, they take care of business against Washington. And remembering their previous two encounters – combined score Washington 84, Oregon 24 – it's a good bet that the low-riding Huskies won't be overlooked.

Now, where IS that blasted gas station?

OREGON OFFENSE
TEAM STATS:  25.3 points, 449.1 yards
             (2nd PAC-10, 170.4 rush, 278.7 pass)
             24-34 in Red Zone offense
             (.706, 8th PAC-10) 

RUSHING:     Terrence Whitehead 128-697-5 TD (5.4), long 53
             Kenny Washington 39-148-1 TD (3.8), long 44
                                       
PASSING:     Kellen Clemens 145-247-4 (.628),
             1878 yards, 12 TD 
                                      
RECEIVING:   Demetrius Williams 42-532-1 TD (12.7), long 59
             Terrence Whitehead 30-289-2 TD (9.8), long 51
             Tim Day 22-359-4 TD (16.3), long 34


Third-year coordinator Andy Ludwig has Oregon flying high, second only to California in the latest conference stats. They had a severe problem early in the season with putting the ball on the ground (20 fumbles, 13 of them lost), accentuating their 1-3 start.

Junior QB Kellen Clemens threw three interceptions in the opening loss to Indiana, and then proceeded to reel off 178 consecutive throws without a pick before flinging one against Stanford. Clemens is second in the PAC-10 in passing yardage and third in efficiency, and is the conference leader in total offense. He had a career day in the comeback win over Washington State, throwing for 439 yards and three touchdowns.

Tailback Terrence Whitehead averages 148 yards in all-purpose yardage, and is third behind J.J. Arrington and Maurice Drew in the PAC-10 rushing race. He's the league's top back when it comes to pass receptions, and he ran for 62 yards against the Huskies last year. Kenny Washington is making the most out of his senior season, gaining a career-best 81 yards against the Hoosiers. Fullback Dante Rosario is the Ducks' fourth-leading receiver with 18 catches.

Demetrius Williams is easily Oregon's most dangerous split threat. The 6-2 speedster has 320 receiving yards in the past three games and three 80-plus-yard TDs in his career - including an 85-yarder in Seattle last year. Williams has gone six games without a score, however. Seniors Marcus Maxwell and Keith Allen have combined for 25 receptions from the other wide-out. Tight end Tim Day leads all Duck receivers with four touchdowns while averaging 16.3 yards per catch. He had a career-best 152 yards against Washington State.

Headlining an offensive line averaging 315 pounds are seniors Adam Snyder (325 lbs) and Nick Steitz (315) on the left, and Mike DeLaGrange (335) on the right. Starting center Enoka Lucas broke a finger against the Cardinal and will miss the contest, but senior Robin Knebel might be returning after missing a couple of weeks with an ankle sprain. The Ducks have allowed a conference-worst 23 sacks through seven games, but average a solid 4.2 yards per rushing attempt.

GAME OUTLOOK: In their last two meetings, Oregon's first two scripted drives resulted in early scores before they went flat the rest of the way. That doesn't figure to happen here - Clemens surely remembers the sour taste of his first UW/UO game at Autzen, and will be looking to atone. It shouldn't surprise if there is plenty of razzle-dazzle early as the Ducks look to roll some early dice on two successive routs in the series.

OREGON DEFENSE
TEAM STATS:     23.4 points, 297.3 yards
               (3rd PAC-10, 109.3 rush, 188.0 pass)
                17-21 in Red Zone defense
               (.810, 8th PAC-10) 

TACKLES/TFL:    Jerry Matson 44/8.0
                Ramone Reed 37/3.5
                J.D. Nelson 37/3.0    

PASSES DEF/INT: Aaron Gipson 5/3
                Jackie Bates 5/1
                Justin Phinisee 3/1 
                               
SACKS:          Devan Long 6.5
                Anthony Trucks 4.5
                Chris Solomona 3.0


Last week it was Cody and Patterson; this week it's Ngata and Long, with a healthy dose of Solomana thrown in. An abundance of experience lives in Nick Alioti's front seven, and they'll be charging hard after their last two Husky experiences. They registered ten sacks in last week's Stanford win.

Up front, Devan Long, Chris Solomona, and Robby Valenzuela have combined for 12 sacks. Couple that with the successful injury return of Haloti Ngata (6.5 TFL) as the run-stuffer and you have yourself perhaps the second-best unit in the conference. Long is second behind Manase Hopoi as the league's best sack-master and TFL'er, and Solomona has Oregon's only defensive score – a 34-yard INT return.

Seniors Jerry Matson and Ramone Reed lead the Duck linebackers with a combined 68 tackles, with junior OLB Anthony Trucks chipping in 4.5 sacks. As a whole, the front seven stops the play behind the line 17 percent of the time.

The secondary needed some rebuilding but has logged eight interceptions, led by the three of junior corner Aaron Gipson. True freshman Jackie Bates has four pass-breakups, and the former De La Salle star recorded his first career theft versus Arizona. Free Safety J.D. Nelson – former Stanford great Darrin's son - has 29 tackles, and Justin Phinisee moved from corner to Marley Tucker's rover spot when the latter dislocated his elbow against ASU. Phinisee also doubles as the punt returner.

GAME OUTLOOK: After allowing Washington to rack up 42 points two years in a row, Oregon would have loved to be the ones to hurl that streak-ending shutout. The Trojans took care of that, so Oregon will have to find solace in trying to pin a second goose-egg on a Husky offense for the first time since 1968 – and the first back-to-back since 1961 (USC and Oregon State). It may not be so much what Oregon can do at this point, but what Washington can't.

OREGON SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Jared Siegel 6-10 FG (long 51), 19-20 XP
               
PUNTING:       David Dittman 34-37.6 (long 57),
              .294 inside the 20
                
KICK RETURNS:  Kenny Washington 16-21.6 (long 41), 0 TD
               Ryan Shaw 3-10.7 (long 15)
                               
PUNT RETURNS:  Justin Phinisee 11-12.7 (long 61), 0 TD


Place-kicker Jared Siegel hit three field-goals against Stanford last week, giving him 46 for his career and surpassing Gregg McCallum as Oregon's all-time leader in the process. Siegel already holds the school record for career points scored - and in case anyone doubts the senior's range, he hit a 59-yarder against UCLA as a sophomore. Coach Bellotti's son Luke kicked an extra point against Idaho.

Incumbent punter Paul Martinez's first two kicks of the season averaged 20 yards, helping Indiana tremendously, so JuCo transfer David Dittman took over the job. Dittman averages just under 38 yards per punt.

Ngata is probably the best bull-rushing kick-blocker in the conference. Kenny Washington's 21.6-yard return average would be higher, but he had a 100-yard touchdown return on the season's opening kickoff called back because of penalty.

GAME OUTLOOK: Actually, Sean Douglas has been performing much better lately for Washington, sliding past Dittman into ninth on the PAC-10 punting list. But Siegel has a clear advantage over Braunstein, and the Husky return game is simply non-existent, while Kenny Washington is a threat to break one. Special teams essentially won the contest for Oregon down on the Farm last Saturday.


KIBBLES AND BITS

Bellotti will be the North head coach at the 2005 Maui All-Star football classic on January 22. He'll oppose Georgia's Mark Richt ... The Ducks, in starting their season on September 11, have no bye weeks this year ... The home team has won 10 of the 20 PAC-10 conference games played to date ... So why does Washington have three of the league's top-six tacklers, the leading sacker (Manase Hopoi) and a line that has only given up 10 sacks all season while losing six-of-seven games? The offense is never on the field anymore, that's why. The Huskies have fallen to ninth in conference time-of-possession. Washington's defense has 170 more tackles than the Oregon defense in the same number of games ... The Dawgs and the Ducks are a combined minus-15 in turnover ratio. Is it possible that both can go minus again on Saturday? ... Ohio State's Justin Zwick ranks 100th on the NCAA passing efficiency list with a rating of 107.0, giving a clear indication of just how low the Huskies' team efficiency rating of 77.97 really is ... Besides Kenny James (30 points) and Michael Braunstein (20), no other Husky has more than six points (eight players with one touchdown each) ... J.J. Arrington ranks fourth in NCAA rushing yards, and Aaron Rodgers is number two in passing efficiency. That USC only allowed Cal 17 points shows what a good defense they really have ... Hopoi now leads the NCAA in tackles-for-loss with 19 ... Oregon wears "TK" on their helmets in honor of late recruit Terrance Kelly, shot to death two days before he was to arrive on campus for his first fall camp ...
Rick Samek can be reached at rsamek1@comcast.net

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