The No. 2 Oregon Ducks will be taking on the No. 16 Washington Huskies on Saturday, and the Huskies are going to need to do a lot of things right in order to pull off the major upset.
The Ducks have blown all of their opponents away so far, putting up 630.4 total yards and 59.2 points per game. Meanwhile, the Huskies are 4-1 after losing a close one against Stanford last week. Oregon is looking to win its 10th straight game over Washington, which is the longest stretch in the history of the rivalry.
It won't be easy, but if Washington is able to do these things, it will be in great position to take down Oregon in this Pac-12 matchup.
Make Marcus Mariota as One-Dimensional as Possible
There's no denying that Marcus Mariota is the current front-runner for the Heisman trophy. He's put up 21 total touchdowns and nearly 1,700 total yards through just five games. He had his biggest game of the year last week against Colorado, posting seven total touchdowns and throwing for 355 yards.
Limiting the running lanes for Mariota is no easy task. He ran for 235 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games, averaging well over 20 yards per carry. He's slowed down a bit since, running for 103 yards over the past three games, but he's still an efficient runner, averaging 12.1 yards per carry this year.
The Huskies will need to bring help and play with a spy frequently in order to close the running lanes for Mariota. This means that the secondary is going to have to step up in the passing game with less help coming from the linebackers, but this group should be able to do that.
The defense for the Huskies has looked good to start the season, allowing just 14.8 points and 146.4 passing yards per game. The secondary has stepped up when needed, and that clearly showed against Stanford. Kevin Hogan, who many believed to be a top-tier college quarterback, went just 12-for-20 with 100 yards, a touchdown and an interception last week against the Huskies.
Mariota is the key to this offense, especially with De'Anthony Thomas being listed as questionable. It won't be easy slowing down a Hesiman candidate, but if any team can do it, it's Washington.
Slow Down the Tempo
The Ducks love to set the pace and run their exciting uptempo offense. They're averaging around 77 plays on offense per game, but they would be running a lot more if they didn't take their foot off the gas in the second half of these blowout wins.
Washington runs plenty of plays as well, running 85 per game. However, as good as the Huskies offense is, they won't be able to beat Oregon in a foot race, and they will need to slow down the pace of the game.
This is where the run game comes into play for Washington.
The Huskies are led by their junior running back, Bishop Sankey, who could be a big name at the NFL draft in May. He's run for 732 yards and seven touchdowns already this season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He's a real workhorse for the Huskies with 131 carries on the year, the second-most in the FBS.
It will be important for Washington to establish a run game behind Sankey, along with Jesse Callier and Dwayne Washington. If the Huskies can maintain possession and continue to eat up the clock, then their defense will be well-rested and able to keep up with Oregon's offense.
Win the Turnover Battle
Giving the Ducks any extra opportunities to score points will kill Washington on Saturday. If they want to keep Oregon's offense off the field, then the Huskies are going to need to take care of the ball.
As a team, Washington has done a solid job holding onto the ball, with just seven turnovers this season. Keith Price has been efficient in the passing game. Not only is he completing 71.3 percent of his passes, he's also just thrown three interceptions so far. On defense, the Huskies have already forced six interceptions.
Oregon has just five turnovers this season, but you also have to look at the teams the Ducks have played. This will be their first game against a legitimate defense, and that could mean a false sense of security for Mariota and the rest of the offense.
This is the battle the Huskies have the best chance of winning. They have a smart quarterback, a strong running back and a very tight group of defensive backs who can turn the tide of the game and ruin the Ducks' hopes for a shot at the national championship.
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