This Saturday, the Washington Huskies face off against the 5-0, No. 2 Oregon Ducks at home with ESPN College GameDay coming to town. Needless to say, this game is kind of a big deal. Washington has looked like it has turned the corner from the last decade that of football that had highs of mediocrity and lows of utter futility.
This is finally the year the Dawgs are taken seriously. They need to prove it once again Saturday. They were the better team than Stanford last week, hands down. They outplayed Stanford but beat themselves. Even though they lost, the Huskies showed how good they really can be, and because of that game I now believe the Huskies can beat Oregon, though it won’t be easy. The path to victory follows these three steps.
Stop the run: The Ducks are so ridiculously good on offense because of one thing: the ability to run very fast. They win with team speed. De’Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner, and any wide receiver have the ability to burst through an open hole and run untouched to the end zone. How can you stop that? Don’t open any holes. It’s something the Huskies have been good but not great at this year. The front seven has to fill holes and tackle in space just like they have been doing so far this year. If they do that, the Ducks superhuman offensive will become mortal.
Keep the momentum: All upsets have one thing in common: The underdog never loses the momentum. Even if they are losing, everyone on their sideline has to believe they can, and will, win the game. The key to gaining and keeping momentum is starting fast. If Oregon starts by putting up the first two or three scores, it’s most likely going to run away with the game. The Huskies need to score first and have an early lead. That way, the Husky Stadium crowd can become a huge factor, and that’s exactly what the Dawgs need.
Limit big plays: Oregon is a big play team. The Ducks will not drive down the field four yards at a time and eventually plow into the end zone. They will gain three yards, five yards, four yards before Mariota runs 70 yards down the middle of the field untouched because of a blown assignment. That’s how the Ducks work, and Huskies absolutely must have an eye on every skill player at all times. Stanford beat Oregon last year by stopping the run and limiting big plays. It is the key to making the Ducks look human, and as soon as the Ducks look human they can be beat.
Play a clean game on offense: I’m not going to say that Keith Price needs to have a big game or that Bishop Sankey must run for 150 yards. The Huskies can score on anybody in the country; they put up 489 yards of offense against Stanford on the road. But what held them to 28 points? Penalties and stupid mistakes. They are averaging over 10 penalties a game for 92 yards. They average 557 yards per game, good for 5th in the nation, but they are not even in the top-25 when it comes to scoring offense. Why is that? There are two easy answers. First, the Huskies consistently have drives stopped cold by penalties. Those 92 yards a game often come at inopportune times. Secondly, they have made some easily fixable mistakes at key times. The drop by Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the final drive against Stanford is the one that stands out, among many.