The Washington Huskies stand a good chance of ending their nine-game losing streak to the Oregon Ducks when the two meet in Seattle for a Pac-12 showdown Saturday (4 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Sure, Oregon has looked downright dominant over its first five games. However, Washington has looked just as good and was practically a tipped-pass interception away from upsetting No. 5 Stanford last weekend.
Needless to say, this Huskies team has come a long, long way since that dreadful 0-12 campaign in 2008.
On Saturday, Husky Stadium will be packed with loud, boisterous fans draped in purple and gold. The addition of Lee Corso, Kirk Hebrstreit and the rest of the College GameDay crew will only help increase the atmosphere.
But no matter how tough of an environment it all builds up to be, it will ultimately fall on head coach Steve Sarkisian and his Washington squad to put together the perfect game plan to upset the two-touchdown favorite Ducks.
Fortunately, the team has the tools to do it.
Run, Sankey Run!
With Bishop Sankey, the Huskies have arguably the best running back in the nation in their backfield.
Through five games, the junior has rushed for 732 yards and seven touchdowns on 131 carries. He ranks No. 4 in both total yards and yards per game (146.6).
Furthermore, Sankey is currently on pace to rack up 1,757 yards on the ground this season. If that holds up, he would surpass Corey Dillon’s school record of 1,695, set back in 1996.
But it’s Sankey’s workload that makes him stand out.
The Spokane, Wash. native has carried the ball 25 times or more in all four of Washington’s contests against FBS opponents this year. That includes a school-record 40 carries in a 31-13 win over Arizona in September. Only Boston College’s Andre Williams averages more carries per game.
However, what puts Sankey over the top is his ability to show up for big-time games.
Last weekend, he faced a formidable Cardinal rush defense. A unit that came in allowing just a little over 100 yards per game while conceding only two touchdowns on the ground all season.
What did Sankey do? Oh nothing…just rushed for 125 yards and a pair of scores.
In 2012, it was much of the same. He rushed for a total of 561 yards and six touchdowns over five contests against ranked opponents—the Huskies were 2-3 in those games.
While finding success in the run game against Oregon won’t be easy—the team ranks No. 32 against the run while allowing just 3.14 yards per carry—the Ducks have faced just one rushing attacked ranked No. 60 or better.
During that game, Tennessee and it’s No. 32-ranked rushing attacked racked up 178 yards on 38 attempts.
Sankey should have as much success, maybe even more, against the Ducks this weekend.
Silencing the Quack
Oregon may have made a fool out of all the defenses it has faced thus far. However, the Washington defense is no joke.
Entering this weekend, the unit ranks No. 11 in scoring (14.8 PPGA), No. 10 in total defense (287.8 YPGA), No. 3 in yards per play allowed (3.94), No. 3 against the pass (146.4 YPGA) and No. 3 in pass efficiency defense (81.7 QBR). Furthermore, the Huskies rank No. 15 in sacks (15) and have allowed just two touchdowns through the air.
If you recall, this is the same defense that held Stanford’s offense to just 279 total yards and 4-of-14 on third down. That includes limiting quarterback Kevin Hogan to only 100 yards through the air.
That could pose a problem to the Ducks’ Heisman-favorite quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Coming into this weekend, the sophomore has yet to throw an interception. However, given Mariota’s struggles with accuracy (56.7 CMP%), Washington’s secondary and suffocating pass rush could be enough to open the floodgates.
In a game that is likely going to be decided by who runs the ball better, the Huskies’ No. 45 run defense will need to step up big to slow down Oregon’s No. 3-ranked rushing attack.
Summing It All Up
Ultimately, this will be a make-or-break game for Washington.
The team gained a lot of supporters last week after its valiant effort against the Cardinal on the road. It brought a lot of respect back to the program and increased the Huskies’ BCS portfolio.
However, it also places quite a bit of pressure on a team not used to it.
With a win, Washington is looking at a pretty comfortable schedule the rest of the way, aside from a road trip to face No. 11 UCLA on Nov. 15. It would also put the team in solid position to contend for a Pac-12 title.
On the other hand, a loss could dismiss any and all credibility the Huskies gained. It could also send the team into a downward spiral that could ultimately lead to a disappointing finish for what was such a promising beginning.
Needless to say, Washington’s fate is completely in its hands.
And if the Huskies can perform on both sides of the ball, they could very well end up shocking the entire college football world this Saturday.
Who would of thought that was possible five years ago?
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.