No. 12 Oregon (5-1, 3-0) at No. 25 Washington (5-2, 2-2)
12:30 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
TV: Ch. 4. Radio: KOMO-AM 1000/FM-97.7
Latest line: Ducks by 2 1/2 points.
UW key players
QB Jacob Eason: 66% completions, 1,692 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, 3 interceptions
RB Salvon Ahmed: 522 rushing yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 6 TD, 44 receiving yards
DL Levi Onwuzurike: 23 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 blocked punt
S Myles Bryant: 44 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Oregon key players
QB Justin Herbert: 69.1% completions, 1,602 passing yards, 17 TD, 1 INT
RB CJ Verdell: 448 rushing yards, 5.7 YPC, 2 TD, 50 receiving yards
ILB Troy Dye: 33 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT
S Jevon Holland: 24 tackles, 3 INT, 2 TFL
Run, run, run
In Oregon’s only loss this season, Auburn rushed for 206 yards and 4.8 yards per carry … and maybe, just maybe, provided a blueprint for beating the Ducks. On a sloppy track Saturday, the Huskies need to run it with junior Salvon Ahmed, who scored three touchdowns in last weekend’s win over Arizona. They need to run it with Sean McGrew, who topped 100 rushing yards for the second time last week and averaged 8.2 yards per carry. They need to run it with senior wide receiver Chico McClatcher on jet sweeps. They need to hope that center Nick Harris and right guard Jaxson Kirkland are healthy enough to play. They need to attempt to impose their will on Oregon, and hope that opens up the play-action pass. Through seven games this season, Washington ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns (14) and third in rushing offense (178.71 yards per game). Like UW’s coaches have taken to saying, it’s time for the Huskies to play to their strengths.
Stop the run
Most of the talk swirling around the Oregon offense centers on quarterback Justin Herbert, and he deserves it. The 6-6, 237-pound senior has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just one interception halfway through the regular season. But let’s look a little closer at the past two games. In conference wins over California and Colorado, Herbert averaged just 237.5 passing yards while throwing for a total of three touchdowns and one interception. The running game, not the quarterback, carried the Ducks to decisive wins. Oregon has rushed for 442 yards, 5.8 yards per carry and five touchdowns in its past two games. Meanwhile, Herbert’s leading receiver — tight end Jacob Breeland — was lost for the season last weekend, and weather forecasts are projecting a typically rainy setting in Seattle on Saturday. What does that mean? The Ducks are going to run the ball. Washington’s defense — which is allowing 186 rushing yards per game and 4.86 yards per carry in conference play — needs to prove that it can stop it.
The turnover battle
Time for a battle of strength on strength. In seven games, Washington’s defense has forced 13 turnovers, which ranks 12th nationally. Pretty good, right? Well, Oregon has forced 14 turnovers … in six games. The Ducks rank second in the country with 12 interceptions this season. (Washington’s eight interceptions ranks 11th.) Oregon’s turnover margin, 1.50, is also good for fourth nationally. Washington lands 15th with a 0.86 turnover margin. The point is, both programs excel both at protecting the football and forcing it out. And in a rivalry game, especially, a turnover or two often makes the difference. Indeed, Washington has forced 13 turnovers in its five wins this season, and zero in its two losses. If the Huskies can make Herbert — who, as previously stated, has thrown just one interception this season — cough up the football, their odds of springing an upset dramatically increases.
Let’s not drag this out: Washington won’t win. A second-half explosion on the road against Arizona is a promising sign, but the Huskies will need much more consistent offensive production against one of the top statistical defenses in the country. Entering the week, the Ducks ranked second nationally in opponent pass efficiency rating (85.39), second in interceptions (12), second in opponent yards per attempt (4.8), eighth in passing defense (160.2 yards per game), ninth in tackles for loss per game (8.3), 12th in opponent completion percentage (52.2), 12th in sacks per game (3.5) and 23rd in both rushing defense (107.5 yards per game) and opponent yards per carry (3.12). So, to recap: they defend both the pass and the run well, they rush the passer well and they create turnovers. Got it. Oh, and Oregon also leads the country in red-zone defense, allowing a touchdown just 14.29% of the time. (UW, meanwhile, ranks 102nd in red zone offense). Granted, the Ducks have not played the most difficult schedule, so some of those numbers may deceive.
To pull an upset, the Huskies must stop the run, pressure Justin Herbert and create a couple turnovers. They also need to establish a running game of their own with Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew. In short, a lot needs to go right for UW to conquer its principle rival. Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Don’t bet on it.
Final score: Ducks 24, Huskies 20.