Solving the Duck Mystery - Part 1

Four years in a row the Oregon Ducks have beaten the Washington Huskies. They have never beaten the Huskies five times in a row ever! Oregon was 5-1 and ranked No. 7 in the nation before beating the Huskies 55-31 in last year's contest. They have certainly been the better team in the recent history of this northwest rivalry.

The Huskies have beaten the Ducks five times in a row five different times, and have won 58 of the 100 games played in the series. The Ducks have won 37 times and there have been five ties. Until recently, Washington clearly had the upper hand throughout the history of the series, which started in the year 1900.

Washington literally dominated this rivalry in the 1970's and 80's. Even in the 90's they went 6-4. For those 30 years the Dawgs won 21 games while losing only 9 and on 3 separate times won at least 5 straight. The Huskies have not won since 2004.

But Washington has a shot if they can solve the mystery of stopping the Ducks' offense. Hopefully the Huskies have closed the talent and coaching gaps enough to steal a win here. After going back over last year's game I am convinced that Washington is a much better team right now then they were a year ago. Besides, they could have won it last year in spite of being out-played and out coached.

If the Huskies are going to pull this off they must correct their problems of the past few years and return to their strengths. That means, first and foremost, slowing down the Duck offense. Then they need to win the battle of the running game on both sides of the ball (the team that rushes the ball the best has usually won this game). Finally, they need to win the kicking game and turnover battle. Do those four things and Washington wins the first signature game of the Willingham era.

So, how can it be done? What have the Ducks been doing that the Huskies haven't been able to counter, and how can they possibly beat a team on the road they are two-touchdown underdogs to? Simple, end the game with at least one more point than the home team.

They need to learn from the past two years and I promise you the Husky coaches and players have watched those films so many times they have them memorized. I'm positive they have been looking at the Duck games played in November, where in the past two years the Ducks have lost almost every game. For one reason or another Oregon has been terrible at the end of the last two seasons. Last year it was clearly due to the loss of Dennis Dixon, their quarterback. They won their bowl game because they played an opponent, South Florida, that was no match for any Pac-10 team.

In last year's game the Ducks came out of the blocks smoking and before Washington could regroup on defense, the score was 17-7 at the end of the first quarter. The Ducks had rolled to 13 first downs, rushed 19 times for over a hundred yards and blocked a punt. Had Jake Locker not hit an 83-yard bomb to Anthony Russo the Huskies would have had only 10 yards total offense and one first down in the opening quarter. Yikes!

The blocked punt represented the second year in a row the Ducks got a major break in the kicking game. Both were created by safety Patrick Chung. In 2006, he returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown - the first and only score of the first quarter. In 2007 he blocked a punt in Husky territory for the first turnover of the game, also in the first quarter. Do you think the Huskies might know who he is and where he is lining up this year?

Obviously Washington needs to start fast, while at the same time being ready for the no-huddle, hurry-up offense. That is a tough thing to imitate in practice and is precisely why Paul Wulff is doing the exact same thing at Washington State. It always takes some time for the defense to get up to speed. It's all about tempo.

The Ducks no doubt will start again, or try to use the up-tempo. They may take their time at first just to see what the Huskies show in their defensive alignments. The Huskies still need to be ready for it, as they were clearly on their heels from the opening kickoff last year when they gave up a 34-yard return.

Jonathan Stewart ran wild early, gaining 96 yards on 14 carries in the first quarter alone. Stewart is gone so that's one question solved. Even though Washington looked over-matched and unready early in the game, they did settle down enough to get the game tied by the end of the third quarter. Then the bottom fell out again and the Ducks hit the speed limit, scoring 55. It marked the first of five games coming down the stretch that the Huskies lost in the fourth quarter. They will be in better physical shape this go-around, due to their extra conditioning both in camp and in their off-season workouts. If they can finish the game by making the winning plays in the fourth quarter, it will do wonders for their confidence and that could carry them throughout the year.

Simply put, winning the fourth quarter will win this game. They will need to keep themselves in the game until then, and then hold on to their beliefs and win this together with a fourth-quarter victory.

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