Saturday, October 12, 2013
Is this finally Washington's year vs. Ducks?
By Ted Miller
SEATTLE -- For the past nine years in Washington's bitter rivalry series with Oregon, it's always been wounded, dispirited Huskies fans walking out of a stadium in Seattle or Eugene groping for hope with a, "Well, just wait until next year!"
So is 2013 the year? Is it the year Washington, long the big brother in this series until the program went rear-end-over-tea-kettle after the firing of Rick Neuheisel, finally breaks through after nine consecutive blowout defeats? Is this the year the Huskies best the Ducks and again become nationally relevant?
There's more "maybe" this go-around that just about any previous season during the losing streak. For one, the Huskies are ranked No. 16. They are 4-1 playing against a tough early schedule, and the lone loss last weekend at Stanford was a pretty darn impressive performance on the road against a top-five team.
The Huskies have been strong on both sides of the ball, with quarterback Keith Price running an uptempo offense that is not unlike Oregon's, and the defense has been fast and physical, ranking among the national and Pac-12 leaders in many categories.
Of course, Oregon fans are rolling their eyes. Their second-ranked Ducks have heard about Huskies resurgence before. And then delivered a butt-whupping.
Oregon, playing its first opponent with a winning record, is looking to make its own statement. The Ducks are again national championship contenders, and quarterback Marcus Mariota is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. A big victory could mean a lot for team and individual goals.
The first issue for Washington is keeping things close. That sounds obvious. But that so rarely is an issue for Oregon, it's relevant to wonder how the Ducks might react to a high-pressure fourth-quarter on the road.
By the way, the Ducks aren't exactly afraid of playing away from home. They've won 17 road games in a row, the longest active streak in FBS football and longest in school history.
If you are looking for an interesting matchup, it's the Ducks three new starting linebackers against Huskies running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Sankey ranks fourth in the nation with 146.4 yards rushing per game. The Ducks first priority is stopping the run, but the run defense has been solid, but not great (126.4 yards per game).
Then there's Seferian-Jenkins. The preseason All-American has been pretty quiet so far this season, catching 14 passes for 149 yards with two TDs. But his 6-foot-6, 276-pound frame is a matchup problem, particularly in the red zone. He could challenge those young linebackers, particularly if they are leaning forward, fretting Sankey.
As for Oregon, the first question is how much -- if at all -- running back De'Anthony Thomas plays. He's been nursing a sprained ankle.
If both teams struggle to run the ball, the QBs will be throwing into two of the best pass defenses in the country. Oregon is ninth and Washington 10th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
The Ducks are still two-touchdown favorites. The odds are this is not the year for Washington.
But it seems more reasonable to wonder if it is than it has in a long time.