Rivalry Renewed: Oregon Ducks Look for Sixth Straight over Huskies

I remember going to my first Oregon Duck football game last fall as a freshman. Because of weird scheduling circumstances, the Washington Huskies came to Autzen in just the second week of the season.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

And being a fan of the Ducks for several years before I stepped on campus, I was well aware of the rivalry and was excited to witness it firsthand.

Soon after entering the stadium, I was quickly thrown into the competitive trash-talking that those clever collegians in the student section like so much. Well, this time we weren’t so clever.

From the very second the first purple-clad player appeared in the tunnel, there was a telekinetic-like power that united the entire stadium; students, alumni, and even children to stand up and chant: “Fuck the Huskies!”

Over and over again. I didn’t even know we were allowed to do that. Looking back, we probably weren’t, but it was too much fun it didn’t matter. The loathing between the two teams was palpable.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it, the dislike quickly turned to sympathy, as the Ducks went all Michael Vick on the Huskies, 44-10. To make matters worse, Washington didn’t win a single game the rest of the season, including a heartbreaker to the lowly Washington State Cougars.

For some reason, the rivalry didn’t feel so much like a rivalry to me anymore after that game. It was more of a business as usual, fifth straight win in a row type of thing.
But the Huskies are no longer a joke. No more Tyrone Willingham or Rick Neuheisel and his March Madness office pools.  Washington now has a legitimate head coach: Steve Sarkisian, who learned from the best of the best in Pete Carroll at USC. Coach Sark finally has the Huskies playing up to their full potential.

Despite going winless last season, Washington had plenty of talent, although most of it was inexperienced. Willingham brought in several solid recruiting classes, including QB Jake Locker in 2006 and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Kavario Middleton last season. He just couldn’t get anything out them. I mean, Locker is good enough that he should be able to win a handful of games by himself.

But now Locker has developed into the player many expected him to become, the West Coast’s version of Tim Tebow, Chris Polk emerged as a talented running back and Kearse has excelled in his first season.

However, the one thing that has kept the Huskies from a 2008 Miami Dolphin-like turnaround is their defense. Although better than last season, the Huskies still rank ninth in the Pac-10 in total defense, allowing 424 yards per game.

And that’s why the Huskies are at least a year away from putting a stop to Oregon’s five game winning streak. Jeremiah Masoli (who should play) and LaMichael James, two of the hottest players in the country, should be able to feast on the porous Washington defense.

With two weeks for the Ducks to rest up, and two weeks for offensive mastermind Chip Kelly to game plan, Oregon should be focused and ready to march into Husky Stadium for their sixth straight win.

Kelly has instilled his mantra of “one game at a time” into his players, as offensive tackle Bo Thran can attest: “They’re just the next team on our schedule.”

The only worry for the Ducks, is adjusting to the unfriendly confines of Husky Stadium. Only one game in their current five game winning streak over Washington came in Seattle.

But Chip Kelly has done a tremendous job preparing this team week in and week out. Going into the Rose Bowl before the bye, many fans were frightened because it was the first road game since the Boise State debacle, but Oregon overcame a lackadaisical first half to win handily.

“We don’t put any more stock in this game than another,” Kelly said. “By that, I don’t mean to diminish it, but we put everything we have into every game. We haven’t done anything different in terms of our approach. It’s a league game. It’s on the road. And that’s enough to get our players up and excited for practice.”

In Big Balls Chip I trust.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Washington 24

Become a fan on Facebook!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Advertisements

Oregon Must Overcome Several Challenges at UCLA to Stay in The BCS Hunt

I’m worried. For the first time all season. Seriously.

I bought into the hype before Boise State. I was certain Oregon would get their revenge against Purdue. I knew Utah was overrated. I had a feeling the Ducks would step up against Cal. And Washington State is, well, Washington State.

But UCLA? What’s so special about the Bruins?

Costa will need to step up in a big way for the Ducks to win in the Rose Bowl on Saturday

Costa will need to step up in a big way for the Ducks to win in the Rose Bowl on Saturday

It’s really not that I’m worried about UCLA at all. I mean, yeah, they’re a decent team. Actually, they’re a little better than that. They went into Knoxville and knocked off the Volunteers. And they gave Pac-10-leading Stanford a late scare in Palo Alto. Both pretty impressive.

But in a vacuum, there is nothing about the Bruins themselves that scares me. Kevin Prince? Johnathan Franklin? Terrence Austin? I’m sure they’re nice guys, but man, that’s a whole lot of mediocrity.

So you ask, what could I possibly be worried about? What is it that caused me to stay up late last night, tossing and turning while I pictured what will happen when the Ducks travel to Westwood on Saturday?

There are four things. And any single one of them could be enough to derail Oregon’s Rose Bowl aspirations with a devastating loss at, coincidentally, the Rose Bowl.

Jeremiah Masoli’s Injury

Just as Masoli finally started playing up to his Heisman-like potential the past two weeks, the curse of the Oregon quarterback struck: a knee injury. Seriously, another one?

Masoli came out in the second quarter against Washington State with the Ducks already leading 35-0. So when he came out, the initial thought was they were just resting him and putting in the second stringers in early.

Turns out Masoli has a sprained MCL, an injury that usually takes at least a couple weeks to heal completely. So the Ducks will turn to junior backup Nate Costa as the starter on Saturday. And if things go according to plan, Costa will lead Oregon to victory, allowing Masoli to rest this week and during the open date next week, before suiting up at full strength in Husky Stadium on Oct. 24.

Costa, who was supposed to be the starter last season before re-tearing his ACL in fall camp, has never started before. And the only in-game experience he has, is against the second team during blow outs over Cal and Washington State this season, Portland State in 2006, and during a big loss at USC that same season.

Sure, he has an inspiring story, as he has come back from multiple devastating knee injuries. Sure, he was a top recruit coming out of high school. And sure, he has a career 84.4 completion percentage. But he only has 21 career passes has never started a game before.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that Chip Kelly has enough confidence in Costa to let Masoli rest up and avoid any resemblance to what happened with Dennis Dixon in 2007. It’s just that getting handed the ball in the Rose Bowl with the season on the line is a lot of pressure to deal with.

Playing on the Road

Oregon has had it easy the last month with four straight home games. And for the Ducks, playing in Autzen stadium is an advantage that very few other teams are privileged with.

Before Cal came to Eugene two weeks ago, Jahvid Best told reporters that the crowd at Autzen is the only one that stands out in his mind as having gotten to him.

Former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr once said, “Autzen Stadium is where great teams go to die.” And trust him, he knows from experience.

So when Oregon travels south to UCLA, it will be their first road game since the debacle in Boise.

The Ducks have had some trouble playing away from Autzen in the recent past, with a 9-9 road record since 2006.

It will interesting to see how focused Kelly has team this time, because Oregon looked lost and overmatched in the season opener against the Broncos.

Injuries in the Secondary

Apparently knee injuries don’t only happen to quarterbacks at Oregon.

Just weeks after team captain Walter Thurmond suffered an ACL ending his season, fellow senior cornerback Willie Glasper succumbed to the same fate. That leaves Talmadge Jackson as the only remaining cornerback with starting experience.

“We just got to plug the next guy in,” Kelly said. “You deal with injuries every day. It’s college football. UCLA’s quarterbacks are banged up. Tim Tebow’s hurt. Sam Bradford’s hurt. It doesn’t just happen at Oregon. It happens everywhere in the country.…We’ve got a lot of guys out so it’ll be interesting to see how this thing finishes up.”

After the defense stepped up following the loss of Thurmond, despite already being without T.J. Ward, they held Cal and WSU to just nine total points, it will interesting to see how the Ducks respond to yet another hit to their secondary. Inexperienced reserves, Anthony Gildon and Chad Peppars will compete for the starting spot.

Playing With Expectations

Oregon has gotten off to many fast starts throughout the decade. But just when they appear to be a serious contender, the Ducks have wilted under the pressure.

For example: 2003, 2006, 2007, and this season, in the opener against Boise State.

Playing with the hype of being a contender for the BCS is a completely different animal than fighting for the Emerald Bowl. The entire country is watching. Every play matters. Just one mistake marks the difference between playing in San Diego in December instead of the Rose Bowl in January.

And now, as Oregon has climbed back to No. 13 in the rankings, they have once again emerged as the sexy, dark horse pick for the national championship.

By all means, I think the Ducks have a great chance to run the table and end up in Pasadena on New Years Day, or possibly better. But it’s up to Chip Kelly to have his team focused for every single game, whether it’s UCLA or USC.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine