Saturday the Washington Huskies will march into Autzen Stadium with a fourth-year starting quarterback who guided his team to the College Football Playoff two years ago as a sophomore. In senior Myles Gaskin, they have the school’s all-time leading rusher. They are third in the nation in scoring defense, giving up a stingy 13.7 points per game.
The Huskies were favored to win the Pac-12 last year, but fell a little short, leading pundits everywhere to proclaim that 2018 would be their year, again. And of course, everybody knows their coach, Chris Petersen, is the best coach ever to coach in the Pac, short of maybe Don James, who cheated his way to half a national beauty contest win sometime during the last century.
The Ducks, on the other hand, have seen their program go from riches to rags over the past three or four years. Three coaches in three years is no way to compete with a magnificent program such as the Washington Huskies.
Yet, somehow, the possibility of a Ducks win doesn’t seem as impossible as it really should, given the circumstances. The Huskies are reminiscent of the 2012 Notre Dame team or the 2015 Florida State Seminoles. All three squads found ways to barely prevail against foes who should have had no chance against a powerhouse, this year’s season opener of Washington vs. Auburn aside.
Washington has won largely by not making many mistakes. But performances that resulted in one-touchdown wins against unranked Arizona State and win-less UCLA will burn the snow dogs if repeated against stronger competition, and their high defensive ranking may be suspect, because…
The Huskies have yet to face an elite quarterback. Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins’ No. 44 national ranking in QB efficiency is the best they’ve seen. From there, it drops to No. 80 for Utah’s Tyler Huntley and No. 86 for Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. UCLA and BYU come in at No. 108 and No. 111, respectively.
The Ducks’ Justin Herbert is currently ranked No. 8 in the country and has been on fire lately. This could be a problem for the Huskies after they struggled to put away win-less UCLA and their No. 108-ranked quarterback.
And it would be surprising to see the Huskies put up lots and lots of point against the Ducks. The Huskies’ offense ranks 45th in the country at 443 yards per game. Oregon, by comparison, ranks 15th.
Chances are, Oregon is going to score somewhat more than the 13.7 points per game the Huskies are giving up against quarterbacks who struggle to notice the difference between purple and other colors.
Which raises the question — how much can the Ducks expect to limit the Huskies’ so-far-ho-hum offensive power? Washington’s Jake Browning and Stanford’s K.J. Costello have incredibly similar stats so far this year. Like Stanford, Washington has a big tight end and a 6’5″ receiver. (Fear of jump balls against 5’10” corners comes to mind.) We can only hope the Ducks have figured out how to deal with that.
The Huskies’ running game has not particularly excelled this year, and by the end of the game against UCLA Saturday night, it looked like the Huskies’ training staff was looking for duct tape or maybe some Super Glue to keep Gaskin’s right arm from falling off.
So, in spite of the difference between the two teams’ fortunes over the past three years, improbable as it seems, it looks like the Ducks actually do stand a chance of beating the Huskies. This raises the question: What would a Ducks win do for each program?
For the Ducks, it would be confirmation that Coach Mario Cristobal has the Ducks on track. Actually, even a close game would accomplish that. And with some high-profile recruits in town, a win over the Huskies would create ecstasy, and would go a long way to cement the country’s No. 3 recruiting class.
For the Huskies, a loss to the Ducks at this point would be an absolute disaster. As their second loss of the season, it would knock them irretrievably out of the Playoff discussion. It would confirm that for the second year in a row, they failed to live up to the pre-season hype.
It would make the assertion that Petersen is the top coach in the conference highly debatable. The top coach loses his first game against the third coach in three years to coach a fallen program? Not a good look.
It might — just maybe — even make the Huskies’ fans wake up to the fact that Cristobal is kicking Petersen’s butt in recruiting. Because if they can’t beat the Ducks more than two years in a row after the Ducks have had a major blowup, it does not bode well (long-term) for the dogs — especially if Cristobal continues to string together top recruiting classes.
The Huskies had a window of opportunity after making the College Football Playoff. That window is by now one loss away from being completely closed; and somehow, the Ducks have stolen the recruiting momentum that, rationally thinking, should have gone to the Huskies.
It speaks volumes for Mario Cristobal and his staff that the Ducks are in this unlikely position, after all the program has gone through over the past three years. And it will speak volumes for the future of Huskies football if Cristobal takes Petersen down on his first try.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline
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