Sitting in the press box about an hour and 45 minutes prior to kickoff between Washington and Oregon, and we have our three keys to a possible UW victory to pass along, plus the matchup box that ran in today's newspaper.
1. Limit Oregon's returns -- Kickoff coverage was a major area of emphasis throughout the week -- gee, wonder why? -- but the Huskies need to cover punts, too -- UO's Bralon Addison leads the nation with 30.9 yards per return (216 yards on seven chances). The Ducks have put plenty of offensive and defensive players in the NFL in recent years, but a big key to their consistent dominance of the Pac-12 has been their solid special-teams play. Washington has to limit that to have a shot today.
2. Avoid three-and-outs -- As UW quarterback Keith Price said last week when the Huskies were preparing to face Stanford, it doesn't matter how fast the Huskies move on offense if they're not moving the chains. That goes for today, too, because if UW is going three-and-out in less than a minute, that puts a lot of pressure on its defense to force Oregon to do the same. The Ducks haven't scored fewer than 55 points in a game this season. So while this game isn't really about time of possession -- each team prefers to score as quickly as possible -- the Huskies could really find themselves in a hole if they can't keep UO's offense off the field for more than four plays.
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3. Lead at halftime -- The Ducks are famous for their ability to run away from teams in the second half, though that's not something they've had to do this season -- sophomore QB Marcus Mariota hasn't played in the fourth quarter this season, because UO has hammered each of its opponents. Maybe there's something to the idea that the Ducks have yet to be tested in a close game. If the Huskies lead at halftime, that would at least put enough pressure on UO to prove that its second-half acumen carried over from the Chip Kelly era. Steve Sarkisian raves about how well-conditioned his team is. That's always been Oregon's thing. We'll see who's better at it.
No. 2 OREGON (5-0, 2-0 in Pac-12) at No. 16 WASHINGTON (4-1, 1-1)
1 p.m., Husky Stadium
TV: FS1. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 58-42-5. Oregon won, 52-21, in Eugene in 2012, and has won nine consecutive games vs. UW.
What to watch: It’s not known whether the Ducks will have their most dynamic offensive athlete, De’Anthony Thomas. The ultra-quick sophomore running back has an injured right ankle, though it was reported earlier this week that he practiced without a walking boot. He also told reporters that he doesn’t want to return to action – he missed last week’s win over Colorado – unless he’s 100 percent. If he doesn’t play, that’s one less thing for the Huskies to worry about. Thomas has rushed for 338 yards on 42 carries – an average of 8.0 ypc – and eight touchdowns. That’s a touchdown every sixth carry.
The pick: Oregon, 41-35.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
46 Travis Coons P/K 6-2 199 Sr.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Coons will “likely” handle the team’s kickoff duties in place of usual kickoff specialist Cameron Van Winkle. Coons also handles punting and place-kicking duties.
88 Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE 6-6 276 Jr.
Forget Kevin Smith’s near-catch that wasn’t against Stanford. Seferian-Jenkins could have extended UW’s last-ditch drive by catching a pass on 3rd-and-10 that QB Keith Price put right on his hands. How will the big tight end respond?
8 Kevin Smith WR 5-11 214 Sr.
Six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown last week against Stanford, and could have had more if not for a couple drops.
7 Shaq Thompson LB 6-2-225 So.
Thompson is the kind of athlete the Huskies defense needs if it’s going to end its losing streak to Oregon. His and the Huskies’ ability to track Oregon’s backs and QB Marcus Mariota could determine the outcome.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
8 Marcus Mariota QB 6-4 211 R-So
Could establish himself as a legitimate Heisman candidate with big performance Saturday. Not only quick, but strong and difficult to tackle.
91 Tony Washington DE 6-3 243 Jr.
Leads the Ducks with 4 sacks, along with 5.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles. Obstacle for Price, Bishop Sankey.
27 Terrance Mitchell CB 6-0 189 Jr.
Top UO defensive back leads the team with 3 interceptions.
1 Josh Huff WR 5-11 202 Sr.
Leading receiver averages ridiculous 21.2 yards per catch, and 89.0 per game.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple