My sincere belief is that Oregon is the better team in this game tomorrow, and there are a number of keys I personally am focusing upon as I watch it transpire. I think factors No. 2 and No. 3 below will be new to most of the readers, as I do not believe the vast number of media outlets have pointed them out. I have more commentary than you have time, so I will reduce it to a couple of major turning points or differences from last year that will influence this game.
Let’s start with managing our emotions as fans, and contemplating what is actually realistic. The reality is that Washington is a good team, but elevated by a superb offensive attack with great receivers and an elite quarterback. Drop in an average quarterback and the fortunes of this Washington team drop enormously, thus it is the Washington team that Oregon has to beat, not Michael Penix. He is one of the most gifted quarterbacks I’ve seen from any team, and that won’t change.
Thus as fans–he will have a drive or two or even a quarter or two that will make you feel that the game for Oregon is hopeless, and he is unstoppable. Resist coming to that conclusion, because the Ducks’ advantages will take time to materialize over the course of the game, and these advantages will result in a victory.
Great Matchups for Oregon…
As fans, we are fortunate to go into this game with matchups that favor Oregon because of relative strengths and weaknesses. Obviously the Huskies are highly skilled at passing the ball, but Oregon has one of the nation’s top passing defenses. (Good matchup!) Two defensive backs who were burned often last year against the Huskies for big plays or touchdowns are either no longer on the squad, or in a reduced role. The 2023 defensive secondary is much better than last year, proven by stats that the Huskies are about to see in person.
The new abilities of Oregon defensive backs to provide tight coverage unlike anything seen in 2022, and give little yards-after-the-catch is, in my view, the biggest difference from last year, and the major element in this contest. Washington has fantastic timing patterns where the defender can hang with the receiver until the WR suddenly cuts inside, or outside with the ball meeting him after the cut. There is little the defender can do about it, but over the course of a game–our elite secondary is going to be able to make enough plays to hold the Husky scoring down.
I could see the Ducks using a “Man-Free” coverage often of which is man-to-man coverage, with a free safety available to cover anything deep, and help with the immediate tackles or recognize the play developing to stop it. While I see them mixing up coverages–it benefits a defense to go man-to-man when you have the luxury of so many great coverage corners and safeties as Oregon does. The depth will keep everyone rested, and can provide tighter coverage–especially in the second half.
I do expect to see a number of Simulated Pressures of where Oregon drops seven into coverage while rushing four, but disguising where the pressure is coming from. Four can get through when they are attacking one side of the LOS going against three blockers as we see in this recent article about Simulated Pressures that Dan Lanning brought from Georgia. The Oregon defense under Tosh Lupoi has become very skilled in carrying these out successfully in the 2023 campaign.
The BIGGEST Component?
The No. 2 most important element in this game is the matchup where, due to injury, the Huskies have been starting a Redshirt freshman (6’2″ 275 lbs.) Parker Brailsford at center. Opposite him will be former Husky transfer Taki Taimani, who has had an absolute stellar year in 2023 with incredibly high PFF rankings for his play thus far. (The No. 1 rated defensive lineman in the conference) The last two games he especially killed it, and this 6’3″ 330 lbs. monster is the perfect wrecking ball collapsing the pocket back into Penix, disrupting his timing on the passing routes, and moving him outside into our edge rushers.
The Huskies do not want to run Penix, as he has had ACL surgeries in both knees and a reconstructed shoulder; he is fragile and will almost never take off. Thus a major element that hurt the Oregon defense against Texas Tech, a running quarterback, is not a factor in this game. Popo Aumavae is unbelievably strong, and at 315 pounds–he blew up the Red Raider center at times, as he too, is in the top ten of all the defensive linemen in the Pac-12 for PFF ratings. Having these two senior Nose Tackles alternate to manhandle this newbie Husky pup is a matchup you can only dream of.
Freshman versus seniors? Only 275 pounds versus 315 and 330 pounds? Whew!
This weakness on the Washington offensive line is why their running game is only adequate, and explains why they throw the football so quickly. They cannot pass protect for long, and Penix cannot scramble. Again–see why my first major factor are the defensive backs? If they can cover for 2.5 seconds on enough plays, coupled with an occasional pocket collapse…enough plays can be made by the Duck defense to limit the Husky touchdowns to much less than their 46 point average.
The Biggest Surprise on the Oregon Offense?
The biggest offensive surprise might not be what you would expect as most of us would suggest that Troy Franklin‘s breakout year, or Bo Nix’s 80% completion rate would rank as the biggest surprises. Other fans would tout how well the offense has not missed a beat, but flourished under new offensive coordinator Will Stein. Yet the biggest surprise and my No. 3 factor is the new starter at center for 2023, who has dominated from the very beginning.
Highest graded Interior OL this season💪 pic.twitter.com/peL0yuAxir
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 5, 2023
Holy crap! Jackson Powers-Johnson is not only the most highly rated offensive lineman in the conference, but the nation? No other Oregon player is performing at the highest possible level as he is, and it points to a final matchup that could determine the game. It is looking dicey for whether UW’s talented defensive nose tackle (6’1″ 292 lbs.) Tuli Letuligasenoa, will be at full strength against the Ducks after he hurt an ankle in the game versus the Wildcats. Washington’s run defense was noticeably impacted by his loss as Arizona started to gash them up the middle. To stop Oregon’s top-ten-in-the-nation running game, the Huskies desperately need Tuli at full strength for this game.
Without a healthy Tuli, Oregon’s running attack can dominate and take time off the clock while scoring, and putting that much more pressure on the Huskies when they do get the ball back. Oregon already matched up better with our run offense versus their run defense, and this injury could put things over-the-top.
Or maybe it won’t matter if he’s healthy or not? (Whaaat?)
Even if Letuligasenoa is not slowed by his injury, the nation’s best center in Powers-Johnson will win most of those battles in the trenches against the Husky. I can tell you that I will be breaking down their battles in slow-motion in the ensuing week after the game. Talk about a matchup! Watch to see if Jackson manages the talented UW nose tackle, and how it impacts the Oregon rushing attack.
In short, I think Oregon has three matchups in their favor that will tip things in the direction of the Ducks by a 41-27 score. Let’s discuss these FishDuck keys and give us your predicted score in the only free and civilized Oregon football forum because…
“Oh, how we love to ponder Our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (Mr. FishDuck)
Top Photo by Tom Corno
Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks, a season ticket holder at Autzen Stadium for 35 years and has written reports on football boards for over 23 years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, have a daughter Christine, reside in Eugene Oregon, where he was a Financial Advisor for 36 years and now focuses full-time on Charitable Planned Giving Workshops for churches and non-profit organizations.
He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More…
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