Tomorrow, the 2nd-ranked Oregon Football team will face a sizeable challenge in Seattle.
A confident pack of Huskies are fired up over their close loss to Stanford, and ESPN Gameday will be on campus for the first time ever. This game against the 16th-ranked Huskies is supposed to mark the first true test for the Ducks in 2013. Most prognosticators still anticipate an Oregon victory and Vegas has installed them as 13.5 point favorites.
But if the Ducks are to crash the party at the new Husky stadium and extend their winning streak to 10 straight in the series, they will have to navigate a considerable number of obstacles.
Here are the matchups that should factor heavily in the outcome:
Keith Price vs Oregon
This will be the fourth start against Oregon for the Washington QB. He made his first career start on the road, in place of an injured Jake Locker, at Autzen stadium. This season, Price and the Huskies’ offense look to be playing better than ever.
But how will he fare against the Ducks? If history is any indication, not very well.
On top of an obvious career record of 0-3, Price’s career stats in his previous three starts against Oregon look like this: 57-for-94 (60%), 415 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INT. But Price is dual-threat, you say? Against the Ducks, he has rushed 26 times, for a net of ONE yard.
Battle of the Distractions
Both teams have faced a number of “distractions” this week. For the Ducks, outstanding TE Colt Lyerla abruptly decided to leave the team and apparently begin preparation for the NFL draft. Second is the question of whether De’Anthony Thomas will play, after injuring his ankle on the opening kickoff against Cal.
For the Huskies, head coach Steve Sarkisian made the headlines after the Stanford game by stating he did not agree with the incomplete pass call that went against his team in the 4th quarter, and then accused Stanford of faking injuries to slow his offense. Sarkisian has said all of the right things since, but has had to address questions about it all week long.
Will either of these distractions impact play on the field?
No Fly Zone
Both Oregon and Washington feature strong defensive play, but this matchup should be the biggest test for each team so far. Washington is currently 10th nationally in total defense, allowing opponents an average of just 3.94 yards per play. Oregon is 21st in total defense and allowing 4.04 yards per play.
Oregon has the second ranked scoring defense at 10.8 points per game and Washington is 11th, averaging 14.8. Washington is third in the nation in pass efficiency defense and Oregon is seventh. Both teams are tied for 14th in redzone defense.
Both teams are playing pretty good on that side of the ball right now, but who will make the plays when it counts on Saturday?
The biggest difference between the teams statistically is Oregon is no. 2 in turnover margin and Washington is tied for 50th. Washington is also one of only two teams averaging more than 10 penalties per game.
Aliotti vs The Spread
When typical defenses prepare for up-tempo offenses, a number of tactics and schemes may be employed. Over the years, Duck fans have seen defensive coordinators try just about everything to slow down the Oregon offense.
However, possibly no defensive coordinator in the country has more experience defending the hurry up and zone-read plays than Nick Aliotti. After practicing against arguably the best version of the offense for six straight years, Aliotti has surely had plenty of time to work out the kinks. In fact, this aspect of the game may be Oregon’s greatest advantage in this matchup.
Look no further than last year’s game against Arizona and spread offense guru Rich Rodrigues. Even with 5th-year senior QB Matt Scott and the nation’s leading rusher Kadeem Carey, Arizona was able to put up exactly zero points against the Duck D – losing 49-0.
The Mariota Factor
Marcus Mariota is widely considered a Heisman favorite and the numbers tell the story. The sophomore is now 17-1 as a starter, has thrown a touchdown pass in all 18 games and has yet to throw an interception this season. He is among the nation’s leaders in pass efficiency, and has thrown for 46 touchdowns in his career to just 6 interceptions. He is second in the country in points responsible for per game and has scored seven rushing touchdowns already this season.
There is one unbelievable stat is also used as a knock on Mariota — his lack of play in the 4th quarter. In his career, he has taken snaps in just four 4th quarters. While most would look at the stats and consider them even more impressive given he is racking them up in just three quarters, others look at it as a “weakness” in his resume, as he is not “being tested” in critical situations.
Well, with Husky fans waiting in droves, a renovated stadium that should be rocking, an improved opposing team and a national audience, this is about as “critical” as a regular season game can get.
Will he flourish as usual — or get rattled by the Dogs?
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