Nine straight losses by an average margin of 26 points is enough incentive for the Washington Huskies to try and get a win this week when they face the high flying Ducks of Oregon. It will be a major feat but it is possible if they can just keep pace.
Part of the reason why Husky coach Steve Sarkisian switched offenses is to better prepare his defense to keep up with the Duck offense. The Ducks are the masters of the hurry up, no huddle, spread option offense and have perfected it to the point where nobody has even come close to stopping them much less winning the game. They are number 2 in the nation in scoring averaging just a shade under 60 points per game while only giving up a little under 12. They are the number two ranked team in the country and are led by a quarterback, Marcus Mariota, who can run as well as he can throw. They have no less than three runners in the top 10 of rushing in the conference and average 330 yards per game rushing. They have created more fumbles by their opponents and have been a BCS participant almost every year the BCS has existed.
So, do the Huskies even stand a chance of winning? I guess that will depend on whether or not they can keep up with the scoring and get their defense off the field. I know this, the Huskies think they can win and after watching them practice this week it looks like they are preparing exactly the way they do every week. Staying within their system, doing things the same way, and preparing with the same intensity no matter who they are playing has been their approach but nobody needs to tell them this is a really big game and I personally believe they sincerely expect to win.
The Ducks are stingy with the football. They rarely punt but rather prefer to go for it on fourth down. They don’t like to kick field goals so will go for the endzone whenever in the red-zone. Washington would do well to consider approaching the game the same way. Don’t give them the football and they can’t score. Keep the Duck defense on the field and their offense on the sidelines. Washington would do well to keep feeding the rock to Bishop Sankey but when they do pass they will need to give quarterback, Keith Price, enough protection to give him time. On film the Ducks don’t appear to be as good defensively as they were last year but the level of their competition has made it tough to analyze. One of the keys is simply to use speed against speed.
The Huskies will need to play sound option responsibilities and tackle well in space. Mariota is a slick ball handler and they really like to run outside a lot because of the quickness of their backs so the Husky defense really needs to be disciplined in their approach. Their line basically tells you where they are going and what kind of play to expect. The Husky defense needs to be honest with their reads and know that if they have a good play they will line up immediately and try to get off another play before the defense can regroup. The Ducks have had 48 plays this year of over 20 yards so taking the big play off the board will also be a key and that means great tackling is a priority.
Anyone who watched the last Husky game against Stanford knows that the Huskies lost the game in the kicking game. Well they better have worked on that because the Ducks are great in both punt returns and kickoff returns. They lead the nation in punt returns so the Husky punter, Travis Coons, will be a key factor especially if he can continue to directionally kick the ball out of bounds. I think Coons is better at both phases of kicking than either the Duck punter or the Duck field goal kicker so if he has a great day that will be another key to winning. Best not to punt the ball to them but rather punt it out of bounds.
The bottom line is this is a great football team the Huskies will be facing and to win the game they must play almost error free football with again having great tackling as the key. The Huskies are easily the best team the Ducks have faced so far this year and it really doesn’t matter what we think, it’s all about what they think. They think they can win and with going to the same sort of offense the Ducks run, Husky defense at least has a clue of what to expect from both the schematic standpoint but especially from the pace standpoint. We will have to see on game day but from my vantage I think they are better prepared to beat Oregon than any time in the last decade. Make them play into the fourth quarter and see how their defense holds up against the Husky offense. Nobody has challenged them to do that this whole year so if the Huskies can just keep it close then they have a chance to win it at the end with a Travis Coons field goal.