Chris Petersen isn’t taking anything for granted.
When asked if the Huskies’ red-zone issues could be a problem against No. 12 Oregon, which has allowed the fewest red-zone touchdowns in college football, the UW coach paid homage to the Ducks’ defensive dominance.
“Hopefully, we get in the red zone,” he said smiling.
It’s a valid concern considering Oregon ranks third among 130 FBS teams while allowing 8.7 points. Opponents have reached the red zone just 14 times and the Ducks have allowed just two red-zone touchdowns, which is the fewest in the nation.
Oregon, which dismantled Colorado 45-3 last week, has given up just one TD and has outscored opponents 195-25 during its five-game winning streak.
Meanwhile, Washington’s red-zone foibles have been well documented during a season in which the Huskies have settled for field goals far too often.
“We’ve been talking about that until we’re blue in the face,” Petersen said. “We’ve got to be able to stay in manageable situations and play our best ball.”
Despite scoring on 29 of their 32 trips inside the 20, the Huskies have reached the end zone just 17 times, or 53%.
Washington’s red-zone problems were on display in last week’s 51-27 win at Arizona when the Huskies’ offense was responsible for just six points in the first half.
The offensive woes were reminiscent of struggles in losses to California and Stanford when UW managed just one touchdown in each game.
Without injured redshirt running back Richard Newton, who has emerged as a short-yardage specialist, Washington discovered ways to find success close the end zone in the second half against Arizona last week while scoring four touchdowns on five red-zone trips.
Mostly, the Huskies relied on physical running inside from Salvon Ahmed, who scored on runs from 10, 4 and 3 yards.
“It goes to rhythm and guys understanding in that red zone you’re going to play assignment-perfect football,” Petersen said. “That, to me, is not overly complicated to play assignment-perfect football. You’ve got to know your assignments. And if you don’t, we’re doing too much with them as coaches.
“And then we’ve got to play really fundamentally great football. Doesn’t have to be perfect, but we’ve got to have great fundamentals. There’s a couple times we weren’t perfect on our assignments. If you’re not perfect down there, good luck.”
MUST-WIN FOR UW
Saturday’s showdown looms as potentially the biggest of the year for No. 25 Washington, which understands that a loss would virtually hand the Pac-12 North division title to its Northwest rival.
A defeat would drop the Huskies (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) three games behind the division leader Ducks (5-1, 3-0) in the standings with four remaining league contests for UW.
“This is going to be one of those games that everyone will be excited about,” said Petersen, who anticipated a sold-out crowd at Husky Stadium for the 12:30 p.m. kickoff. “I do think this is one of the games that can make this the greatest setting in college football.
“You get an afternoon, a really good opponent coming in here. I know our fans will be excited.”
Three years ago, Washington dismantled Oregon 70-21 in Eugene, which snapped a 12-year losing streak to the Ducks.
Two years ago, the Huskies were equally impressive in a 38-3 victory.
However last year, Oregon benefitted from a missed 37-yard field goal by UW kicker Peyton Henry on the last play in regulation and outscored the Huskies in the extra period for a 30-27 overtime win.
Still, Petersen doesn’t draw any extra motivation from last year’s heartbreaking defeat.
“All we do is try to learn and improve,” he said. “I don’t care if you win or lose. That was a heckuva game last year. Both sides left it all on the field. That’s what big-time college football should look like.”
PEYTON HENRY REBOUNDS
Since missing a potential game-winning field goal against Oregon last year, Henry has converted 20 of 22 attempts and is perfect on 14 tries this season. He’s also 29 of 29 on extra-point attempts.
“Whether you’re doing really well, you have to keep learning from why am I doing well,” Petersen said. “And when things don’t go right, it’s how do I fix this? And just keep that mindset of, ‘I’m truly in the moment and I’m truly grinding.’ And that’s what he’s done.”
Henry, a sophomore, booted a career-high 49-yard field goal against Cal.
- It’s unclear if injured center Nick Harris will be available Saturday for the Huskies. On Thursday, Petersen categorized him as “week to week.”
- Petersen is one of 22 coaches — including 4 from the Pac-12 — who was named to Dodd Trophy midseason watch list. The award recognizes the top coach in college football.
- Washington athletic teams posted a 91 on the NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR), which is the highest in school history. The football team also notched an all-time high of 90 on the GSR, which is designed to show the proportion of players on any given team who earn a college degree. Washington’s women’s golf, women’s soccer, women’s tennis, gymnastics, volleyball and men’s tennis each posted a perfect GSR score of 100.