"There's a lot to play for," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti regarding the Husky game.
After a one-year break in the heated series, the Ducks (7-3, 3-3) and Huskies (5-5, 2-4) will square off for the 95th time on Saturday, at 12:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium. At stake will be an opportunity for the Ducks to stay in contention for a bid to the Holiday Bowl. A win for the Huskies will keep Washington's hopes for a winning season alive. The Ducks, by beating the Huskies can shout six of eight meaning Oregon has beaten Washington six times out of the last eight contests. The Ducks beat Washington 31-20 in the 1994 game at Autzen Stadium highlighted by the infamous "The Pick" - Kenny Wheaton's interception of Damon Huard's out-pattern pass that resulted in a 97-yard touchdown return. Oregon beat Washington in 1995, 24-22 at Husky Stadium and again in 1997 at Husky Stadium 31-28. In both the games at Husky Stadium, the Dawgs battled back in the second half. In 1998 the Ducks beat the Huskies 27-22 at Autzen and in 2000 Oregon won at home with a 23-16 victory. The Dawgs beat Oregon at Autzen in 1996 33-14 and in 1999 the Huskies won 34-20. The Huskies lead the overall series 56-33-5. The 6-for-8 can be an interesting mantra for Duck fans and hyperbole of the stories is a great read, but for the players in the game may not necessarily carry the same emotional build up as it does for the fans.
"It's a lot of false emotion," said Bellotti. "It comes down to who can block and tackle."
The Ducks must come into the Husky game with a determination to get back to a balanced offense and a hard hitting defense. Despite a rough outing against the Washington State Cougars last week, Oregon quarterback Jason Fife is an efficient quarterback with the numbers to prove it. Fife has completed 55.9 percent of his passes with 165 completions on 295 attempts, 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Fife has a total of 2,396 yards passing with a 239.6 yards per game average. His Husky counterpart, Cody Pickett has an outstanding 60.1 percent completion rate from 279 completions of 464 attempts, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Pickett has a total of 3,502 yards or 350.2 yards per game average. Samie Parker is the leading Duck receiver with 41catches for 598 yards, six touchdowns and a 14.6 yard per catch average and 59.8 yards per game average. Tight end George Wrighster has been an impressive target with 33 catches for 488 yards or 14.8 yards per catch average, six touchdowns and a 48.8 yard per game average receiving. Keenan Howry has 30 catches for 573 yards, 19.1 yards per catch average, four touchdowns and 57.3 yards per game average. Jason Willis recorded his first collegiate touchdown last week against WSU and for the year has 23 catches for 374 yards or 16.3 yards per catch, one touchdown, or 37.4 yards per game average. The Huskies receiving corps have impressive numbers with Reggie Williams leading the way. Williams has 63 catches for 1,023 yards, a 16.2 yard per catch average, eight touchdowns and 102.3 yards per game average. Aside from Williams, the Huskies have eight other receivers in double figure catches. A quarterback who completes 61 percent of his passes throwing to nine different receivers spells trouble for the Ducks.
"They (UW) are very committed to the pass," observed Bellotti.
Oregon likes to run the ball with Onterrio Smith, 1,079 yards on 224 carries or 4.8 yards per carry, 119.9 yards per game and 12 touchdowns. Smith's longest run from scrimmage is 57 yards. True freshman Terrance Whitehead is now a proven commodity having carried the ball for 218 yards on only 49 carries or a 4.4 yard per carry average and two rushing touchdowns. Allan Amundson also has carried the ball 31 times for 149 yards or 4.8 yards per carry and one touchdown. The Husky running game is led by Rich Alexis who has 147carries for 476 yards or a 3.2 yard per carry average and eight touchdowns. For the season the Huskies have 919 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns.
He (Smith) is as explosive a runner as we have seen in this league for some time," Washington Head Coach Rick Neuheisel told the weekly Pac-10 press conference this week. "He is really, really talented."
The Husky defense has been stingy on defense against the run allowing only 91.9 yards a game rushing. But in the last two games against two of the better running backs in the Pac-10 the results have less impressive for the Dawgs as they allowed Tyler Ebell to gain 102 yards on 31 carries and three touchdowns. Last week Stephen Jackson of Oregon State carried the ball 35 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson, Smith and Ebell rank first, second and third on the individual Pac-10 rushing list for this season. Smith has been hampered with a foot injury though he is scheduled to start against the Huskies. Oregon's defense will not be too worried about the Washington running game. The Ducks are allow 95.9 yards a game rushing, but last week against Washington State they gave up 180 yards on 25 carries to Jermaine Green and 139 yards on 27 carries to USC's Justin Fargas.
Washington's pass defense has been at times horrible giving up 267.4 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. As bad as Washington's pass defense has been it is better than Oregon's 285.8 yards per game and 25 touchdowns given up. Both teams have a young secondary defense but have been prone to give up explosion plays. Both programs head coaches sound similar in talking about their defense indicating that much work is left to do before the defensive side can be called good.
"We have made continual improvements (in the defensive secondary) in the past couple of weeks," said Bellotti.
This game could easily come down to the kickers. Oregon's Jared Siegel leads the Pac-10 in field goal kicking. Siegel is 18 for 20 in field goals, with his longest of 59 yards. Washington's John Anderson is 16 for 22 with his longest of 52 yards. Weather conditions could play a factor for both kickers. Forecast for Saturday is showers.
One added factor is the rivalry factor. Oregon won the Pac-10 Championship outright last year and in 2000 the Ducks split the championship with the Huskies and Beavers. Will there be a target on the green jerseys because of Oregon's success?
"For most teams we are their number-one rival," remarked Bellotti referring to how different teams have approached the Oregon games this season.
The Ducks want to have a balanced offense going into the game against the Huskies. The Huskies will rely on their passing attack and hope to take advantage of the young Oregon secondary. Weather could be the major factor in the game and if it is raining, then the Huskies will need for their anemic running game to come alive, while Oregon must have a strong performance balanced performance to be competitive.
Tailgating fans will be on hand to be loud and raucous but a steady rainfall can dampen even the most die-hard fan's enthusiasm. But this Husky week whether it is raining or not. Let the purple RVs come. Let the two teams have at it. Green against purple. Ducks against Dawgs. The Huskies are back in town and for the first time in over two years it is about time.