Oregon Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Washington
It's almost here: Duck vs. Dawg.
Can Oregon make it nine straight wins over Washington?
Will the Ducks keep their BCS National Championship Game drive alive by adding the newly-ranked Huskies (No. 23 on the AP poll) to their victims' list?
Or is Washington and its suddenly surprisingly good defense the real deal?
The answers to these questions are: yes, yes and maybe.
But it's not going to be that simple in this game. If the Ducks are to get the W, certain things must happen, or it could be an early fright night spook for Oregon.
Here's what to watch for.
Ducks' O-Line vs. Dawgs' D-Line
The big surprise in the Stanford vs. Washington game was how the Huskies' smallish defensive line took care of business against Stanford's smash-mouth-run-the-ball brand identity. And, how they made life miserable for Cardinal QB Josh Nunes.
The Ducks' O-line needs to throw its considerable length and weight around and show the Huskies' front guys who's the boss. It would be preferable if it did it on the first Oregon series instead of waiting until the second half.
If the Ducks can win this battle in the trenches—where most football games are won or lost—two good things will happen.
One, Marcus Mariota will have time to properly distribute the rock. The only mistakes Mariota has made in conference play so far are when he's been rushed into acting too quickly because of pressure.
Two, if the O-line executes each play according to the way it was drawn up, Kenjon Barner & Co. will have tasty holes to run through. The more the Ducks can run the ball, the more tired the Husky defense will get and the more mistakes it will make.
If Oregon's O-line does its job, the Ducks will win. If the Huskies' D-line triumphs, it could be upset No. 2 for Washington.
Put your helmets on, buckle those chin straps tight and let's go, boys.
The only thing more obnoxious than a good Husky football team is a good Husky football team that actually believes it can win.
If Oregon lets Washington believe early on in this game that it has a chance to win, it might. But if the Ducks come out strong—stronger than they have in the first two Pac-12 conference games—it will demoralize the Huskies.
The Huskies have been reading all week about how fabulous they are. About how beating the No. 8 team in the nation was super-duper and that they must all be geniuses to have pulled that off.
Let them have early success in this game, Ducks, and the Huskies will have reason to believe that they do walk on water.
Sometimes that confidence and belief is all a team needs to overcome the odds.
Get to Keith Price
Quarterback Keith Price is having a difficult junior year so far. His stats are behind his sophomore campaign, and he has been inconsistent.
That doesn't mean that Price is not dangerous. He is.
The recent emergence of sophomore Kasen Williams at wide receiver is another cause for alarm if you wear green and yellow.
It would be for the best if the Ducks' defensive front could ensure that Mr. Price does not get too comfortable.
It would be even better if Kiko Alonso and Boseko Lokombo—especially if possibly-injured linebacker Michael Clay is unable to play—could make frequent "The Price Is Right" sandwiches.
Price is already familiar with the Autzen Stadium crowd and the noise level from his first start in 2010. Make sure he gets up close and personal with the Autzen turf Saturday night, and the Ducks will win this game.
Stop the Washington Running Game
Sophomore tailback Bishop Sankey—is that a Heisman-worthy name or not?—rushed for 144 yards on 20 carries in the win over Stanford last week. In its three previous games, Stanford had given up a total of 124 yards.
Now, Sankey is no Chris Polk, but that's not the point. The point is this: The longer Sankey is on the field chewing up yards slowly, the less the potent Oregon offense can be on the field.
You don't want that to happen.
Stuff Sankey and Plant Price in the turf, and get the Ducks' offense back on the field as quickly as possible.
Oregon Defense Continue to Excel
I was tempted to make the last key to this rivalry game something like "Unleash Oregon's Offensive Hounds." It is fun to watch De'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner, Colt Lyerla and Marcus Mariota do their thing in the end zone.
However, the bottom line is that the Ducks' offensive stars will have their nifty plays and will score their touchdowns. This Oregon team is not Stanford, and the Huskies will not be able to shut down this offense. They don't need us to tell them they are a key to winning.
This game may hinge on the Ducks' defense continuing their strong, cohesive play. Can you expect Oregon's defense to score in every game?
Yes, you can and should expect it.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill, Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson are all capable DBs who are very good at reading opposing quarterbacks. You should expect each of them to have at least one "pick-six" this season.
The Oregon linebackers are experienced and tough (one might even say mean). If they continue to be disciplined and hard-hitting, who knows what they might force?
And, if I were a quarterback, I would make darn sure I always knew precisely where Dion Jordan was.
If the Ducks' defense continues the level of play it's exhibited through the first five games, Washington is toast.
And One More Thing...
If, on the off chance, the Ducks do have to punt, make sure the Huskies don't block it.
If you've been a longtime Oregon fan, you will recall several games between these two rivals when Washington blocked Oregon punts at just the wrong time.
Don't let it happen in this game, Ducks.
Think of your older fans who can't bear to see that hideous purple smothering the ball, OK?
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