They are proud of their football history, particularly a certain play that occurred in 1994, and so the Oregon Ducks will wear throwback uniforms Saturday to commemorate what Kenny Wheaton did in Autzen Stadium 20 seasons ago.
Indeed, this year marks the 20th anniversary of “The Pick,” the interception that Wheaton returned 97 yards for a touchdown with 49 seconds remaining to seal a 31-20 Oregon victory over the Washington Huskies.
Wheaton served as the grand marshal of Oregon’s homecoming parade Friday. And his ballyhooed interception will surely be played more than once on the Autzen video board prior to Washington’s 5 p.m. game at No. 9 Oregon on Saturday (FOX Sports 1).
That play, which propelled Oregon to the Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl appearance that season, changed a lot. The Ducks, behind a seemingly endless supply of cash from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, became one of the nation’s elite programs, with the facilities, recruits, facilities, victories and facilities to prove it.
And they’ve lost to the Huskies only four times since.
Current UW-UO affairs are particularly bleak for the Huskies as their losing streak in this once-contentious rivalry has swelled to 10 – UO is a 20-point favorite this year – more than a decade now separating them from their most recent triumph over their most hated foe.
First-year UW coach Chris Petersen, who was UO’s receivers coach from 1995-2000 under Mike Bellotti, remembers when the shoe was on the other foot. And those shoes weren’t all being produced by Nike.
“I know how the rivalry was, because when I was at Oregon it was kind of flipped in a lot of ways,” said Petersen, who left Oregon after the 2000 season to become offensive coordinator at Boise State. “When a team starts winning a lot against a certain team, that becomes their rival, and maybe not even so much to the other guys. You’ve got to win some to even it out, to make somebody your rival. But yeah, when somebody wins a lot, I know it frustrates a lot of people.”
Not that Petersen will hold Oregon on a higher pedestal than any other UW opponent this season. His emphasis, as with nearly all coaches, is on winning one game per week against whomever happens to be on the schedule.
That philosophy, of course, reminds of former Ducks coach Chip Kelly, who told his team to prepare each week for a “nameless, faceless” opponent.
“There’s not a whole lot to bring up about Oregon,” Petersen said Thursday. “I don’t need to say anything. They know. There really hasn’t been a ton of talk about that. It always comes back to us.”
And back to how good the Ducks still are. They followed a 31-24 upset loss to Arizona at home two weeks ago with a 42-30 victory at UCLA. Star quarterback Marcus Mariota still hasn’t thrown an interception this season, though he has thrown 17 touchdown passes, and has Oregon ranked No. 1 nationally in passing efficiency.
Mariota benefited last week from the return of left tackle Jake Fisher, one of a handful of Ducks offensive linemen to suffer an injury this season. Their pass protection has suffered as a result.
“(Mariota) can run and throw,” said Huskies outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who leads the nation with 10 sacks. “He's a dual-threat back there, so he's going to be a key for us on defense. Just getting after their o-line. Defensively, that's what we're going to do, is stop those two things – o-line and quarterback – and let the DBs handle the rest."
There might be hope they can stop him this year. UW has its most talented defense since this losing streak began, and is coming off a game in which it limited California to just seven points after the Bears averaged 50 through their first five games.
"It's big. It's huge,” Huskies linebacker Shaq Thompson said of Saturday’s visit to Autzen. “We'll have a chip on our shoulder and we'll go in there like we did with Cal and play hard."
WASHINGTON (5-1, 1-1 IN PAC-12) AT NO. 9 OREGON (5-1, 2-1)
5 p.m., Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon
TV: Fox Sports 1. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7 FM.
The series: Washington leads the series, 58-43-5.
What to watch: Can the Huskies’ pass rush get to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota? UW ranks third nationally with 24 sacks through six games, and Hau’oli Kikaha leads that effort with 10 — more than anyone in the country. Meanwhile, the Ducks’ offensive line, ravaged by injuries, has allowed 15 sacks through six games, though that unit got a big lift last week with the return of left tackle Jake Fisher. WSU sacked Mariota seven times earlier this season. Washington might need a similar effort to throw off the Ducks’ offense enough to have a chance to win. … UW’s offense will have its hands full against a fast, athletic Oregon defense led by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. But the Ducks do rank 107th in total defense (470.3 yards per game) and 85th in yards-per-play allowed (5.8). Might be a good game to get the ball in John Ross’ hands about 12 times. … Can UW’s defense continue its turnover spree? The Huskies have scored five defensive touchdowns this season, four by linebacker Shaq Thompson, and that’s helped make up for what has been a pretty shaky performance by the offense. They’ll need to force a few more turnovers to slow Mariota and Oregon’s trio of talented running backs.
The pick: Oregon, 31-17.
PLU LUTES GAMEDAY
No. 18 PACIFIC LUTHERAN UNIVERSITY (3-1) AT PACIFIC (2-2)
1 p.m. Saturday, Hanson Stadium, Forest Grove, Oregon
Series: PLU leads, 29-8-3. The Lutes have won the past 17 games, including a 17-16 victory last season in Puyallup. Pacific’s last win was 9-7 in 1972 — the first season of late legendary PLU coach Frosty Westering.
What to watch: For a change, PLU coach Scott Westering saw his team get out to a big lead last week and was able to rest his starters for a good chunk of the game. And that was crucial since many of the Lutes’ top skill-positon weapons played less than fully healthy. The only real game-time call this week will be receiver Kellen Westering (hamstring), who has missed the past two games. Against the Boxers’ “Tampa-2” style defense, the Lutes should exploit open spaces in the middle on crossing routes and seams for quarterback Dalton Ritchey (58 of 92, 642 yards, six TDs; 263 rushing yards, four scores). Pacific is a big, strong and nasty group on both ends. Expect the Boxers to test the middle of the Lutes’ defense with a three-headed rushing attack, led by Bobby Ladiges (51 carries, 305 yards, three TDs). Against a similar power-rushing attack in Linfield, the Lutes surrendered 221 rushing yards earlier this season.
What’s at stake: This is one of those hair-raising, worrisome matchups, just because Pacific is powerful and isn’t the most predictable of teams, especially on defense. The Lutes need to win to keep their hopes of a third consecutive at-large bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs alive.
TNT pick: PLU, 26-20.
UNIVERSITY OF PUGET SOUND (2-2) At GEORGE FOX (0-4)
1 p.m. Saturday, Stoffer Family Stadium, Newberg, Oregon
Series: First meeting.
What to watch: Here comes the newest football-playing member of the Northwest Conference. And while this season will be full of learning lessons for the Bruins, UPS coach Jeff Thomas is quick to point out that this isn’t your typical first-year program. Why? The Bruins held practices all last season, so they have a higher level of continuity than most first-year teams. Much of their offense revolved around tailback John Shaffer (97 carries, 343 yards, TD), who started two seasons ago at Linfield. … UPS lost last week to Pacific, 44-17. And for much of the first half, the Loggers dominated play — leading 17-0 well into the second quarter. Thomas said it was the best display of physicality he’s seen from his team in four-plus seasons, especially on defense. Even though quarterback Braden Foley (56 of 109, 565 yards, three TDs) became the school’s all-time leader in total offense last week with 5,690 yards, he reverted to some of his past mistakes in the second half, holding onto the football too long and taking sacks.
What’s at stake: A legitimate chance exists that the Loggers can finish with a winning record this year. Spoiling the Bruins’ conference home opener is a must-do in order to make that happen.
TNT pick: UPS, 38-21.