Rivals to the Finish

Indeed, the Huskies and Ducks are scheduled to renew their border hostilities Saturday afternoon in Eugene for the 98th time. No, not consecutively, even though it might seem that way to some (to be fair, the two rivals have met at Husky Stadium once in the current millennium). But if you listen to the opposing coaches tell it, this renewal of the "Uncivil" War is beginning to sound strangely familiar – even downright civil.

Washington (0-2, 1-4 at #20 Oregon (2-1, 5-1)
Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
Saturday, October 15 - 12:35 PM (PST) – FSN TV Delayed (7PM)
Series All-time: Washington leads, 58-34-5
Last Meeting: October 30, 2004 – at Oregon 31, Washington 6
Line: Oregon by 15


It wasn't that long ago that the Washington/Oregon "rivalry" was treated with a touch of arrogant disdain by those who donned Purple. After all, their Huskies were busy tending to their place at the upper echelon of the PAC-10 – perceived or otherwise. And besides, they already had Washington State to deal with on the rivalry front. Why be bothered with that school 280 miles to the south that predicated their seasonal success by beating the big bullies from the North?

This week's iteration has the same sort of feel – except this time the primary color happens to be green (or day-glo yellow). It seems so strange that the shoe is now on the other ... er, webfoot.

But by brushing aside lowly Washington – as expected – on Saturday, Oregon becomes bowl eligible. And as for the Huskies, pulling off the upset would clearly give a downtrodden program a giant leap towards rebirth.

The thought of actually overlooking their Northwest rivals – losers of ten straight conference games by an average of 33-14, including last year's 31-6 drubbing on the same Autzen Stadium field turf - is not lost on Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "This is probably the most dangerous game on our schedule," the PAC-10's coaching dean said after seeing his charges win their second straight conference road test last Saturday night, besting Arizona State in Tempe.

And as for the current states of both programs, Bellotti notes that "It doesn't really matter what happened last year or 75 years ago - we have to play the game THIS week. That's what matters. (Washington) wants to win just as much as we do, and has a lot to gain ... we're facing a tough enough challenge."

"It's the next step for us to stay in the conference race. We have to guard against being self-satisfied."

So for both coaches, the tone for this week isn't so much the rivalry, but ‘finishing'. "We talk everyday about finishing," says Belloti. "This week I think focus is very, very important simply because we're coming back home ... there are more distractions and more things to think about. We need to make sure we have the same type of focus that we've been able to maintain on the road these past two weeks."

And as for Tyrone Willingham, who has witnessed his first Husky squad drop a pair of fourth-quarter possibles: "Closing somebody out is something you don't master in a day – it's something you have to do and think about every day. It's a discipline, a habit."

"What we need to do is acquire the habit. That's what good teams do. That's where we want to get ourselves."

Still rivals – even to the finish.

OREGON OFFENSE
TEAM STATS:  35.0 points, 473.5 yards (4th PAC-10, 
             147.3 rush, 326.2 pass) 
             25-32 in Red Zone offense (.781, 15 TDs, 
             6th PAC-10)

RUSHING: Terrence Whitehead 74-299-2 TD (4.0), long 34
         Kellen Clemens 51-186-0 TD (3.6), long 43
         Terrell Jackson 23-92-0 TD (4.0), long 18

PASSING: Kellen Clemens 139-223-3 (.623), 
         1794 yards, 14 TD
               
RECEIVING:Demetrius Williams 36-680-6 TD (18.9), long 61
          James Finley 26-283-0 TD (10.9), long 30
          Cameron Colvin 11-168-2 TD (15.3), long 46


The Ducks have a history of long-standing starting quarterbacks, and Kellen Clemens just adds to that legacy – his 278-yard performance against the Sun Devils vaulted him past Joey Harrington and Chris Miller for third-most career passing yards in school history. Along the way, the senior has enjoyed the two longest streaks (178 and 162) of consecutive passes without being picked. The PAC-10's third-leading passer, Clemens had a bit of a tough day against the Huskies in 2004, throwing for just 134 yards while being sacked four times. But he is thriving in the modified "Utah" spread-option look concocted by Bellotti and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, as he's also the team's second leading rusher with 186 yards.

Sixteen different Ducks have at least one reception, owing to so much one-back and quick-paced shuffling. Their speed threats are senior Demetrius Williams (36 catches, six TDs, 18 yards per reception) and sophomore Cameron Colvin, whose first two career scores came against Washington last year. JuCo transfer James Finley (26 receptions) was an original Oregon signee in 2003 before averaging 100 yards per game at Compton CC. In a conference full of stud tight ends, Tim Day and Dante Rosario both fill the bill. Rosario led the team with eight touchdowns in 2004, and already has a pair this season.

After sitting out the 44-20 win over Stanford with an ankle problem, senior tailback Terrence Whitehead didn't slow an inch against ASU, becoming just the second Duck to reach the century mark in both rushing (122) and receiving (100) yards in the same game, joining (the former) Bobby Moore on that short list. Behind him, Lacey (Timberline) freshman Jonathan Stewart already has four touchdowns in just 28 total touches – three tallies against Stanford in Whitehead's absence, and an 83-yard kickoff return in his home debut versus Montana.

Oregon is extremely young on the line and only stands to get better as time wears on, with RS-freshman Max Unger and sophomores Josh Tschirgi and Geoff Schwartz all starting. Ian Reynoso is the lone senior appearing in the two-deeps, while junior center Enoka Lucas is the Duck's most experienced starter. 350-pound JuCo transfer Palauni Ma Sun has shone at right guard.

GAME OUTLOOK: The Ducks ran for a season-best 234 yards against ASU, and converts 44-percent on third down. Only USC has really stopped the spread-option, and they did so mostly by keeping possession – and scoring on nearly all of them - in the second half. Take away the Trojan debacle and Oregon is averaging well over 500 yards per game. The Huskies ran a new coverage look at UCLA two weeks ago which confused them for most of the game – a performance that was good enough to win had they had wrapped up the final drive. They've had two weeks to get ready for the spread. Could another new wrinkle be coming?

OREGON DEFENSE
TEAM STATS:  25.7 points, 371.5 yards (4th PAC-10, 
             106.3 rush, 265.2 pass)
             19-24 in Red Zone defense (.792, 14 TDs, 
             6th PAC-10)

TACKLES/TFL: Anthony Trucks 42/7.0
             Patrick Chung 40/1.0
             J.D. Nelson 39/0.0

PASSES DEF/INT: Anthony Gipson 6/4
                Justin Phinisee 6/2 
                Jackie Bates 5/1

SACKS:       Anthony Trucks 4.0
             Haloti Ngata 3.0
             Devan Long 2.0


In Haloti Ngata, Devan Long, Matt Toeiana and Victor Filipe, the Ducks have the burliest defensive front four in the conference. Ngata, understandably, has the biggest reputation, and his 340-pound frame requires constant double-teaming. He still has 15 tackles-for-loss dating back to mid-season last year, and will certainly be an All-American candidate before his Oregon days are through. Ngata has also six career kick-blocks. Long, a senior, has ten sacks in the same time span and 22 for his career. Senior Darius Sanders has ten tackles this season – six of them for loss – as Nick Alioti and new line coach Michael Gray rotates up to seven front-liners to keep everyone fresh.

There has been significant turnover in the linebacking corps, with A.J. Tuitele and walk-on Brent Haberly (60 tackles between them) commanding the most attention. Tuitele has missed three weeks with a knee injury, so Blair Philips (9 tackles) gets the nod. They call senior Anthony Trucks a strong safety, but he masquerades it as an outside linebacker. Trucks missed nearly all of the USC game with an ankle injury, yet still took the team lead in tackles and sacks with an 11-stop, three-sack performance against ASU, earning him PAC-10 Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors. Trucks also had 11 tackles in the season opener at Houston.

Oregon has the most experienced back four in the conference, led by senior corners Aaron Gipson and Justin Phinisee. Combined, the two have six pass interceptions and another six defenses – Gipson's four thefts are tied with Cal's Daymeion Hughes for the most in the PAC-10. Free safety J.D. Nelson had 13 tackles against the Trojans.

GAME OUTLOOK: Thanks to a secondary that leads the conference in ten interceptions, Oregon is a plus-four in turnovers. Their sack unit ranks second in the conference with 16, and the defense overall has allowed only five rushing touchdowns. Washington only converts 25 percent of their third downs – last in the league - and will have to do a lot better than that on Saturday to help keep the Oregon offense off the field. The Huskies need to keep it clean, too – in last year's rendition they turned it over seven times.

OREGON SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Paul Martinez 15-19 FG 
               (long 51), 11-15 XP 
               Matt Evenson 3-5 FG (long 51), 3-3 XP

PUNTING:       Matt Dragich 10-33.4 (long 45), 
               .400 inside the 20
               Aaron Knowles 9-39.6 (long 52), 
               .111 inside the 20 

KICK RETURNS:  Sharrod Davis 7-20.9 (long 31), 0 TD
               Jonathan Stewart 3-40.7 (long 83), 1 TD

PUNT RETURNS:  Justin Phinisee 15-9.9 (long 28), 0 TD


It's been an extreme scream for Oregon's special teams in 2005 – they lead the nation in field goals, they've proven dangerous at both return disciplines, yet they've have missed four extra-point tries and are last in the conference in punting, averaging just 34.5 yards per kick.

Junior Paul Martinez was the NCAA's most prolific place-kicker until a nagging thigh strain didn't allow him to go against ASU – Martinez hit on a school-record six three-pointers against Montana after a five-FG effort versus Houston. So in stepped true freshman Matt Evenson, who merely popped three field goals against ASU (including a 51-yarder) to earn PAC-10 special teams Player-of-the-week honors. Neither Aaron Knowles (39 yards per punt) nor Matt Dragich (33.4 yards) has distinguished himself punting the ball.

Justin Phinisee averages nearly a first-down per punt return, and it has been an all-Frosh show at kickoffs – including Stewart's 83-yard scamper against the Grizzlies. "Snoop" would later turn an ankle in the game, and hasn't returned a kick since. Oregon has been vulnerable to the blocked kick, giving up four so far in 2005 (while blocking two themselves).

GAME OUTLOOK: Washington averages 15.9 yards per kick return and 4.9 yards per punt return – both rank as the PAC-10's worst. A dropped punt against UCLA cost them some huge momentum – and maybe even the game. Oregon has made twice as many field goals as the Huskies have attempted. Truth is, every team in the conference will own a special-teams advantage over UW until these sorts of gaffes and numbers start turning around.

KIBBLES AND BITS


Fox Sports Northwest will replay the game at 7:00 PM on Saturday. There will be no replay on Sunday ... Since 1987, the Huskies are 11-3 coming off of bye weeks ... The Ducks remain a presence in Concord, CA. Six former De La Salle players have signed with Oregon over the past two recruiting years ... Oregon will be Washington's third-straight ranked opponent. And next up - USC. The hits just keep on coming ... With 53 penalties for 523 yards, the Ducks are the PAC-10's most heavily flagged team. Funny thing is, their OPPONENTS have garnered 63 penalties – by far the conference worst ... Oregon has out-scored their opponents 128-65 in the second and third quarters combined ... No wonder the games are getting longer. Only four defenses in the PAC-10 allow less than 400 yards per game ... Forget about the old "rush for 100 yards and win" mantra. Louis Rankin has broken the barrier three times in 2005 – and Washington has lost two of those games. Maybe he should shoot for 200 – the Huskies are 29-3 when that happens ... In addition to Oregon, USC (at Notre Dame), UCLA (at WSU), and California (vs. Oregon State) can all become bowl eligible this weekend. They will all be favored to do so ...


Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@COMCAST.NET

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