Solving the Duck Mystery - Part 2

What was interesting to me last year was the Ducks ran out of shotgun and often passed when the QB was under center, which is just the opposite of what you'd expect. They used the QB follow and option plays out of shotgun and their QB rushed 12 times, many of them on the keep option. They also threw out of the option play going into score.

Washington will need to be really sound in their option responsibilities by staying at home and filling the alleys with their linebackers and safeties.

In the red zone, they also liked to use their other back, but essentially the Huskies were unable to stop the simple sweep to Stewart, as well as the dive against the grain. Washington must stop these base runs out of the gun spread formation, and even though the Ducks will have three returning offensive linemen they did graduate both of their starting tackles. Their center looks good on film and they use a lot of zone or area blocking. Their linemen will go to the legs.

Although Husky fans are nervous about the health of their quarterback, the Ducks likewise have had some major injuries that may have lingering effects. The starting Duck quarterback in the spring, Nate Costa, has had a knee problem and had a shaky first scrimmage. Although he is on the mend, the position is still up for grabs and that bodes well for Washington because whoever they see running the show will not be as good as Dennis Dixon at either running or passing. My guess is Justin Roper will probably win the spot as I thought he had a good game against South Florida in the Ducks' bowl win. Costa appears to have re-injured his knee, so that makes it almost a certainty Roper will get the nod. Roper is a taller kid (6-foot-6, I think) but not nearly as mobile as Dixon was. The fact that the Huskies have the film of that game will help them prepare for his strengths. Should Costa start or they play their freshmen (which I doubt), they will be running more. Regardless, Dixon had the magic going last year and he won't be on the field this time.

Likewise, the early departure of Jonathan Stewart helped solve another piece of the mystery. Even though the Ducks brought in yet another JC replacement in LeGarrette Blount, he is not as quick nor as fast as Stewart was. At 240 pounds he will obviously be a load to handle, but it will still be his first game at this level and the Washington defense will be much bigger and faster and hopefully much better on the back end then they were last year.

I also think there will be a distinct advantage in the Huskies' favor due to the unknown factors created by the hire of Ed Donatell. The Ducks have no tendencies, no film/DVD's to study (except possibly the spring game, which is traditionally pretty vanilla), and literally no idea of what to expect from the Huskies on defense.

Because the Ducks were so good on offense (at least for their first eight games and bowl game), I can't believe they will try to fix something that isn't broken. Washington needs to stop the running game and then make sure whoever the quarterback is that he gets to know the defense personally. They need to hit the QB!

This leads me back to the two most important elements to solving this four year dilemma; last year the Huskies dropped three potential interceptions, (two by Dan Howell) and even though they did get one, had they gotten the others they probably would've beaten the Ducks despite their other defensive breakdowns. They also left one fumble by the Ducks on the ground, missing still another opportunity. Washington must make those plays this year to beat Oregon. Turnovers usually help decide most games. Win the turnover battle by a plus-2 or 3 and the Huskies win this game.

Last year the block by Patrick Chung was huge, as was the Ducks ability to return kickoffs (they had two at roughly 35 yards). Both really hurt the field position battle.

Washington punter Jared Ballman needs to win the field position battle. No blocks and pinning the Oregon offense deep will be essential to winning. Likewise the only blocks can happen when Washington is the one doing the blocking. One block and one return for a touchdown sounds good to me. No missed field goals or extra points would also be critical factors but a Husky block or return here would prove huge.

Oregon will come in with a new snapper; they lost a two-year starter at that position. Their punter, Josh Syria, played against the Huskies last year but only punted twice. For the Huskies to win this game they want him to punt at least six times. That would mean the defense is getting stops. The Dawgs would also have three times as many opportunities to get a block or a return themselves.

I really think if Washington wins the turnover battle and makes something happen in the kicking game - while at the same time being solid in their own coverage and protection - they will win no matter what happens statistically on offense or defense.

Looking at all the phases of the game, I think if Washington simply out-rushes Oregon they will run out of town with a win. The best way to do that will be to get the stops on defense and then keep the UW defense on the sideline while the offense wins the ball-possession battle. They cannot let Oregon run 32 more plays like they did last year and hope to win.

That means stopping their option attack out of shotgun by playing off low blocks. Watching their film it is obvious to me that they are taught 'chop-chop', as their offensive linemen will cut more than anyone the Huskies play this season. This is important to understand so that the defensive linemen can pursue and fill the cutback lanes on Oregon's zone blocking plays.

The young receivers will have to avoid the jams at the line of scrimmage and make the corners pay for playing too close in their man-to-man technique. It would also help the young Husky defensive line to get to the Duck quarterback. Last year's film shows that they were awfully close on at least five occasions to sacking Dixon. They ended up only getting one sack but we could assume that no matter who their quarterback is this fall, he won't be as elusive as Dixon. Triple that number to three sacks and that will help swing the game.

On one play alone last year the Huskies missed a sack and Dixon unloaded for a touchdown pass. The UW defense needs to make those plays to shock the football world.

Oregon has always been a great screen team under Mike Belloti and that was no exception last year. The Huskies must 'feel' for the screen. The Ducks usually average at least three to four screens per game.

Much is being made of playing a Pac-10 game this early in the season. The Oregon crowd will be loud and more than ready due to the fact that it is an evening game. The Huskies need to take the crowd out of the game by dominating the chains. Keep the ball away from their offense by running it yourself.

Two Oregon linebackers - John Bacon and Jerome Boyd - had off-season surgery; Bacon on his knee and Boyd on his foot. Both are two of their better defenders. Chances are one or both will be well by the first game but the point is, Oregon has some injury issues. Getting everyone healthy, especially Jake Locker, will be important and getting lucky by Duck injuries may factor in as well.

Now I know nobody gives the Huskies a prayer to win this game, but after watching the Ducks spring game (it was televised), their bowl game, and the game from last season, I am convinced it's a possibility. They don't know what to expect from the Husky defense. I think this mystery is as big to them as the mystery of stopping their offense. I am telling you that Oregon can be beaten even if the Huskies were playing at home but it's obviously going to require Washington to make the plays when the opportunities are there. It will also help to win the fourth quarter battle.

A win by no matter what the score would easily be the biggest victory since the Huskies won the Rose Bowl to open this century. I think the Huskies win this game but then again I always think they will win every game. After watching all their games last year still believe they could have.

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