Our Oregon Ducks football program is entering the most important weekend of their season thus far.
The Ducks will travel up to Seattle, WA to take on their cross-state rival in the Washington Huskies, currently sitting one slot ahead of them at #7 in the AP Top-25 rankings. While Washington boasts as complete a roster as you’ll find in college football, this matchup will come down to beating one side of the ball. There’s an argument to be made today that Michael Penix Jr. has led the most outstanding passing attack in the country this year. The talent’s undeniable, but the real question is how far he can carry the Huskies toward a championship. In favor of Oregon, we’re hoping this weekend can virtually end the Huskies’ hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff, with the Ducks escaping Seattle narrowly in a nailbiting shootout.
Here are a handful of keys to victory for the Ducks to take advantage of this weekend, and points of emphasis that we can hope for as Duck fans to get the job done in Washington and improve to 6-0 in the biggest game of the year.
3. <40% Third Down Efficiency on Defense
Third downs are going to be an essential element in this passing game. Washington played fairly well last year on third down at just over 50% efficiency with Penix at the helm, and Oregon will look to stomp out those opportunities in 2023. Still, even if Oregon performs well on third down, it’d be no surprise to see Washington go for it on fourth down to land some risky conversions and beat the Ducks by out-possessing the football.
Having said that, getting their offense to third down often and forcing early 3-and-outs would create a major momentum surge in favor of Oregon. At 46.0 points per game on the season, the Ducks are going to have their hands full when trying to limit a wide range of weapons in Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, and Ja’Lynn Polk all firing off the line. The Ducks are going to need to play lights out on the backend, in the trenches, and in pursuit on defense. Without one go-to weapon necessarily on third down to cover, the pass rush is really going to have to step up and play their best to collapse the pocket and get Penix on his back all game long. Namely, in the fourth quarter.
2. 3+ Sacks in the Second Half
The Huskies have proved they are never out of games this season, and can get away from teams on the scoreboard in a hurry. Rushing the passer to close out this matchup is going to be essential to knocking off one of the country’s best offenses.
Now, if you asked this of the Ducks in week one, most of us would have been wary of the pass rush’s ability to get home even once in the second half of a game, especially against a top-ten opponent. But with what we’ve seen from Brandon Dorlus, Jordan Burch, and co. in the first five games, this squad has been nothing short of shocking in their ability to generate pressure, sustain it, and force mistakes that lead to turnovers regularly.
No matter the score entering the fourth quarter, the Ducks will absolutely have to close this one out with dominance. While Dorlus did miss practice Tuesday, he and the rest of the defensive front should be relatively healthy entering this premier matchup. Expect to see some exotic looks and a move away from “vanilla” defense to win in Seattle.
1. Keep Penix OFF the Field with a Great Rushing Attack
“The best defense is a good offense” In most cases, this can be misconstrued. Having a good offense doesn’t mean you can outscore everyone regardless of having a weak defense. The real power comes in revoking opportunities from the opposition to score by stealing time of possession, which is exactly the control the Ducks will have to take to get the Huskies uncomfortable on their turf.
However, we know the Huskies have plenty of weapons to score quickly. Even on short drives, the Ducks are probably going to have to outgun one of the best passers in the country in his own building with those three nearly NFL-ready receivers we touched on before. Khyree Jackson, Dontae Manning, Trikweze Bridges, and the rest of the Oregon secondary are going to have to bring their best from the first snap.
Fortunately, Oregon has a plethora of skill players they can count on to control the clock and play keep away from Penix’s talented receiving corps. Noah Whittington is unfortunately out for the year, while Bucky Irving and Jordan James will be relied on heavily this week. Troy Franklin has been playing out of his mind, making chunk plays an asset to this Oregon offense in 2023. However, running the ball in extended drives might be the way to go to neutralize Washington’s offense best.
Overall, there’s a lot to analyze, but it looks like Oregon has a great chance to scrape by with a win this weekend if they at least slow Penix down a bit. Let’s see them handle their business in Seattle, and dominate an ultra-talented opponent in the Huskies to improve to 6-0 and keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive. If anyone can do it, it’s Dan Lanning and Bo Nix leading this 2023 Oregon team.
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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