Nick Aliotti quips, 'I know that the world is coming to an end' in Eugene, with the Ducks coming to Husky Stadium with a 3-3 record.
Nick Aliotti spent 24 years on the coaching staff at Oregon, including 17 as the Ducks’ defensive coordinator before retiring after the 2013 season.
As much as anyone, he knows the Washington-Oregon rivalry, and in any other year he would either be on hand at Husky Stadium or watching closely in his new role as an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks.
But this week, when the Huskies and Ducks kick off Saturday night, Aliotti hopes to find a place where he can have a cappuccino in hand and the game on TV at 4:30 a.m. Sunday in Italy, where he’s on a long-planned anniversary trip with his wife.
“I’m going to try my darndest to watch the game somewhere,” he said. “But I don’t know, does Italy get football?”
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Aliotti said he expects a fun, competitive game this week. He knows both coaching staffs well. At the end of his career, Aliotti worked along side Oregon coach Mark Helfrich; he also was on Oregon’s staff with UW coach Chris Petersen for a couple seasons in Eugene.
Earlier this week, The Seattle Times caught up with Aliotti before his trip to Italy to find out about the rivalry, the Ducks’ struggles and what it’s like to game plan against Petersen.
You were part of a lot of these UW-Oregon games. What was unique about this rivalry?
Aliotti: It’s interesting because the Huskies kind of owned us in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and obviously most recently that’s turned around. It’s usually not a rivalry when one team is winning all the time. But I think it’s a lot closer now, even though Oregon’s won what, the last 10 or 11. It’s an exciting game because the fans dislike the Huskies as well as the fans dislike the Ducks more than the coaches. The coaches, especially this particular year, know each other well — Pete and Helf are friends, of course. It seems like the fans, as you know, get way into it and it is an important game. The Ducks are hurtin’ a little bit and the Huskies probably think they have a pretty good chance up there; they’re playing really good defense they’re seeing sort of a wounded Duck, so to speak, so I’m sure their excitement is high.
What have you seen out of this UW defense, particularly against USC last week?
Aliotti: Well, Chris isn’t going to like me saying this. I think their defense is playing really well, but in all honesty, watching that USC game — I don’t want to take away anything from a team — but I think USC lost that game as much as Washington won that game. I think just ‘SC, I thought it when I was watching the game that they had a lot more problems than X’s and O’s and it’s turned out that way. You could just see — and I don’t have all the answers — but after three plays I said, ‘They’re in trouble. They don’t look like they want to play.’ So you take the wins however you can get them. And with all due respect to Washington — which is playing very good defense and keeping the games to where they have a chance to win, like Chris Petersen would do — I think ‘SC won it more than Washington won it.”
You’ve gone head-to-head against Petersen a couple times when you were Oregon’s defensive coordinator. What’s it like to prepare for a Petersen-coached offense?
Aliotti: There’s always going to be tricks — that tight end eligible at tackle with an empty look; the double passes; the reverse passes; throwbacks. There’s always going to be tricks and a lot of shifting and motion. And usually, the tricks are coupled with a very strong running game and efficient passing. I don’t think they’re as strong running it right now, although they have had some success. And with that young quarterback — I think Jake Browning is going to be very good, but he’s still learning that system and what Petersen wants right now.
With Browning, are you noticing more consistent flashes or do you maybe see some deer-in-the-headlights play still?
Aliotti: I think Browning is going to be the next Jared Goff. I just don’t think he’s there right now. They don’t have all the other pieces right now either. Watching as an outsider looking in, you don’t see a lot of explosion, a lot of weapons on offense. So the combination of a young quarterback, a new offensive line and a not all the other weapons — it’s an offense that’s going to be one to be reckoned with in the future, but right now they’re just doing what they have to do to stay in the game and try win it at the end. Which they’ve had a chance in every game.
How strange is for you to see Oregon with a 3-3 record right now coming off the loss to Washington State?
Aliotti: They’re going through a tough time. It’s a combination of not having the quarterback they’re used to having and then a young secondary. The combination of those two, where you can give up points quickly but you can’t score them quickly. Oregon didn’t give up a ton of ‘explosions’ in past years. We gave up our share; you know what I’m saying. But the combination of those two things is tough right now. And let’s say it: It’s life after Marcus (Mariota). And Oregon’s had a really good run. And there are some years, whether it’s players, chemistry, youth, how the ball bounces — they’re just having a tough time right now. This is a big game for both teams in a lot of ways.
Is there a quick fix for that Oregon defense? Or is a matter of that young secondary just learning and growing?
Aliotti: When you have youth in the secondary, and I had a couple years like that, unfortunately it makes it tougher. There’s really nothing you can do. You can’t change that. The only answer I would have is: simplification. Simplify it, understand how you want to play it. … I think it’s a great learning experience. If the fans are smart enough and understand that teams go through these kind of growing pains — I know that the world is coming to an end, particularly in Eugene; the sun might not come up tomorrow and the walls are caving in and there may be an apocalypse (chuckles). But I think it can good for Oregon if they grow from this. They’ll find out more about themselves and the types of kids that they have.