Each week, I, along with four other local sports reporters predict the winners of each Pac-12 game. This week, I was the only person who predicted an Oregon win against the Huskies. Call me delusional, loyal, desperately optimistic or all of the above.
Most trusted analysts have already considered this a gimme game for Huskies, especially given the team’s current record and Washington’s 70-21 beat down of Oregon last season at Autzen Stadium.
The thing is, Oregon has mistakenly been counted out of this rivalry before.
In 1994, the Huskies (then ranked #9) stood in the way of Oregon’s first trip to the Rose Bowl in 37 years. Despite the Ducks successful season, they entered the game as underdogs.
“Nobody gave us a chance in ’94,” former Oregon cornerback, Kenny Wheaton, told gridirongirl.
Fortunately Wheaton and his teammates didn’t let the outside noise get to them that year.
“Our mentality was ‘let’s go out there and show them!’” Wheaton said.
And “show them” they did.
As every good Oregon fan knows, the Ducks went on to win that game, largely in part to Wheaton’s infamous “Pick” and 97 yard touchdown.
Over 20 years later, a whole lot has changed for both teams and of course the Ducks are not playing for a Rose Bowl berth. Instead, they’ll be lucky to even make it to a bowl game. The underdog story line, however, has again reared its ugly head and the current Ducks have hopefully adopted the same mentality the team embraced all those years ago.
This year, Washington enters the match up ranked 12th in the nation and is the clear favorite to win. Not only do they have one of the country’s highest winning percentages, they also rank 2nd in total defense. To say Oregon will have an uphill battle to victory would be an understatement. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
It won’t be easy but anyone counting Oregon out may want to take a second look (provided starting quarterback, Justin Herbert, is back in the mix after missing several weeks following a collarbone injury).
Oregon’s recent 3 game losing streak (which was snapped last weekend) only came after Herbert and a number of other starters were injured. Slowly, but surely, most of those starters have returned and Oregon has looked much better. When the offense, in particular, was healthy the first three games of the season, it was as if last year’s Oregon team had done an about-face. They were fired up, full of swagger and most importantly, successful.
With Herbert back, all of that (and then some) could easily return.
Sure, Washington’s rush defense is solid, but Oregon hasn’t earned its “Runningback U” nickname for nothing. The Ducks backfield will certainly be tested, but the talent is there to still do some damage.
“If they can run against Washington, they (Oregon) will have a chance,” Kenny Wheaton said.
“It’s all about killing the clock.”
If the Ducks can manage to get the run game going, the passing game, Herbert’s comfort zone, should open things up a lot more in comparison to recent weeks.
On the flip side, Oregon’s defense will have their work cut out for them as well. Fortunately, this year’s Ducks defense has dramatically improved a’la new Defensive Coordinator, Jim Leavitt. If the Huskies expect to drive down the field at will like they did last year, they may be unpleasantly surprised. If the Ducks defense can do their job (at least most of the time) and come away with some sacks and/or takeaways, they could keep this game close.
Finally, if the Ducks want to bring home an unexpected win from what will most certainly be a very hostile environment, they absolutely cannot shoot themselves in the foot with penalties- something they’ve done several times this season.
With kick off just around the corner, all the nasty rivalry talk will be over and a “W” will be logged in one team’s record book. Odds are the book will be purple and gold.
Then again, it may just be time for another “Pick.”
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl