Preview: #7 Oregon (2-1, 5-1)
Some will say the brutality of this year's schedule is starting to wear on the out-manned Dawgs, while others will say that the season is only half over, the worst of the brutality is nearing an end, and the lessons learned by this year's force-feed will serve the education of a young quarterback greatly. You never know.
The seventh-ranked Ducks will be making their second appearance to Husky Stadium since 1999. It's one thing to hang your hat on the fact that Oregon hasn't won in Seattle in 10 years, until you remember that they've only played here twice in the interim. No one on the current Duck roster has played a game in the Montlake half-pipe (even coach Mike Bellotti joked to the Oregonian this week that he "couldn't remember how to get to Seattle"). And though they dismantled the imploding Cougars last week 53-7, they came away with a few notable dings, as senior WR Cameron Colvin and RB Jeremiah Johnson joined WR Brian Paysinger on the sidelines with season-ending leg injuries. And though the receiving corps is thin, Johnson might prove harder to replace because of his jack-of-all-trades talent. "There will be additional opportunities for receivers to carry the ball, to recognize what Jeremiah brought to the table," Coach Bellotti said on Monday. "It will probably be a combination of running backs and wide receivers doing the things that he did."
There's no doubting that the Ducks – unbeaten on the road so far - have owned this series since Tyrone Willingham took over at the Husky helm, winning 45-21 and 34-14 in Eugene consecutively. In both games Oregon came out early with starkly different offensive plans the Huskies couldn't deal with – something that Arizona State did in the second half last Saturday night in Tempe.
Washington can certainly regain a ton of lost luster with a surprise win over their feathered neighbors. But to do it, they'll have to take big steps forward in both offensive sharpness (while throwing predictability out the window) and defensive awareness.
Oh, and of course a crazy crowd must try to do their part. We all work here. Remember to carry a badge.
OREGON OFFENSE: Senior QB Dennis Dixon is one of 18 on ESPN's newly published Heisman list, and no doubt the phones will be busy in Eugene getting those votes in. In reality, he's had an outstanding 2007, leading the conference (and third in the nation) with over 300 total yards per game out of the Utah gun while completing 70 percent of his passes. That 15-TD, 2-INT ratio aint bad, either. Like the Huskies' Jake Locker, Dixon leads his team with six rushing touchdowns. While he won't have Colvin or Paysinger to throw to, there's Jaison Williams (26 receptions, 5 TDs) and Derrick Jones (2 TDs) to pick from, and expect to see TE Ed Dickson (18 catches, 2 TDs) more involved.
Of course, Dixon can always unload it to Lacey's own Jonathan Stewart, who merely leads the PAC-10 in all-purpose yards and averages seven yards per carry with five touchdowns. Sophomore Andre Crenshaw will be spelling Stewart in the position where Jeremiah Johnson held sway. With two seniors and three juniors, it's an experienced front wall led by 337-pound tackle Geoff Schwartz and center Josh Tschirgi. The Ducks rank fourth in the nation in rushing (266 ypg), sixth in total offense (532 ypg), and fifth in scoring (45 ppg).
OREGON DEFENSE: Junior DE Nick Reed had an all-American type performance against Washington State, recording four sacks and another tackle-for loss. He's now the PAC-10 leader in sacks (7.5) and TFL (13). Overall, the Ducks have been bend-but-don't-break on the defensive side, ranking seventh in the conference giving up 392 yards per game but allowing only 20 points per game. Oddly, their top three tacklers are all defensive backs. Senior FS Matthew Harper is the conference's 2nd-leading tackler with 60 stops, senior rover Patrick Chung – who returned a punt for a TD a year ago to open the scoring against the Huskies in Eugene – has 53 tackles, and CB Walther Thurmond has a fumble return for a score to go with his 50 stops. Jerome Boyd leads linebacking corps with 33, and senior DT David Faaeteete has six stops behind the line of scrimmage.
OREGON SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior PK Matt Evensen has been solid, hitting 7-of-9 field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards, with only one miss from beyond 40. His backup Daniel Padilla has also made three FGs in mop-up duty so far this year. Junior Josh Syria has been just as solid in the punting game, averaging 42.3 yards per boot while keeping it inside the 20 at a wonderful .417 clip. Both Washington and Oregon have blocked a pair of kicks this season. Jonathan Stewart leads the PAC-10 in kickoff return yardage, averaging nearly 30 yards per tote.
GAME OUTLOOK: Well, nobody else has been able to stop the Oregon offense – and Washington has had a devil of a time with it the past two years. You have to think that for the Huskies to win this game, they'll have to do two things – somehow win the time-of-possession battle and make no offensive mistakes while doing it. The Huskies haven't exhibited enough offensive imagination to win a scoring shootout with these guys, and so will look to chew up a bunch time with 15-play, 75-yard drives. I guess you can see where I'm going with this. I just don't see any of that happening – the Huskies have been way too easy to defend (and not defend themselves) in second halves and Oregon should find the going no different.
Rico's Prediction: Dixon runs and throws for 300, Stewart runs for 125, and Oregon runs away with a 44-17 win.
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