Eugene, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - The Washington Huskies will get a chance to prove themselves this weekend, as they invade Autzen Stadium for a Pac-12 Conference tussle with the ninth-ranked Oregon Ducks.
Chris Petersen's first season at Washington has gotten off to a strong start, even into the Pac-12 schedule. The Huskies, who dominated a normally potent California squad last weekend, have won five of their first six games, with the lone loss being a 20-13 setback against Stanford.
Oregon rebounded nicely from its 31-24 letdown against Arizona by posting a 42-30 victory over then 18th-ranked UCLA this past weekend.
"Last week we flushed it out. That's a testimony to these guys in the locker room. They were able to flush it and just keep chugging. It says a lot about the character of this team," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said.
Like Washington, the Ducks are sporting a 5-1 mark entering this contest, although they are 2-1 in conference play.
This is one of the longest-standing rivalries in the Pac-12, with 106 previous meetings. The Huskies own a 58-43-5 edge in the series, but the Ducks have won 15 of the last 19 matchups, including a 45-24 triumph in Seattle last season.
Washington has scored fairly well (34.8 ppg), but it still seems to be a work in progress offensively. In fact, the Huskies are last in the Pac-12 in total yards (372.5 ypg), although their balance has been solid, with 1,149 yards through the air and 1,086 on the ground.
Cyler Miles is the Huskies' quarterback, and he has done a good job of avoiding mistakes, with zero interceptions, but he is averaging a league-worst 179.2 passing yards per game. Still, with a 65.9 percent completion rate, nine passing touchdowns and three more scores on the ground, he has proven to be an effective field general.
Jaydon Mickens (33 receptions, 301 yards, two TDs) is the biggest threat in the passing game, as he has 20 more receptions than his closest teammate. However, John Ross (13 receptions, 358 yards, four TDs) is the most explosive threat on the roster, averaging 27.5 yards per reception.
Carrying the load for the UW rushing attack is Lavon Coleman, while Dwayne Washington has stepped up as a complementary piece. Coleman leads the team with 410 yards and a score on 94 carries. Washington has scored three times, and is averaging an even four yards per attempt.
The crowning achievement of Petersen's brief tenure has been how well he has coached up the defense. The Huskies' production rivals that of Stanford this season, with the squad ranked second in the Pac-12 in points allowed (21.3 ppg) and fourth in total defense (392.2 ypg). They put forth a signature performance against Cal, holding the Golden Bears to less than 400 yards for the first time in the last 13 games.
Heading up the defensive efforts is Hau'oli Kikaha (13.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks), who leads the nation in both tackles for loss and sacks.
Of course, facing Oregon presents another big challenge for the unit. The Ducks may not be the offensive juggernaut of year's past, but they are generating 522.5 yards per game, while leading the league in scoring (43.3 ppg).
There is no hiding the fact that Mariota is the best quarterback in the Pac-12, and possibly the country. While Connor Halliday may be shredding records in Washington State's pass-heavy offense, Mariota has been a potent and balanced signal caller. He leads the country in passer rating (193.72), throwing for 1,621 yards and 17 scores on 69.7 percent passing. He also has zero interceptions and an additional 290 yards and five scores on the ground.
Mariota's offensive line deserves some praise for its play against UCLA. The Ducks did not allow a sack in the contest, after surrendering 12 combined in the previous two outings.
"All credit to the offensive line," Mariota said. "They played their hearts out. They really wanted to come out and make a statement and I'm proud of those guys."
Unfortunately, Mariota may be without one of his favorite targets this week as wide receiver Keanon Lowe (17 receptions, 266 yards, four TDs) is listed as questionable with a leg injury. Devon Allen (21 receptions, 412 yards, six TDs) and developing tight end Pharaoh Brown (15 receptions, 215 yards, three TDs) still give Mariota plenty of options.
Adding to that list is running back Byron Marshall, who has 290 yards and five scores on the ground to go with a team-high 29 receptions. Royce Freeman (467 yards, seven TDs) is the team's primary rusher, with Thomas Tyner (279 yards, TD) getting in on the action as well.
Defensively, Oregon is not one of the better teams in the Pac-12, ranking next-to-last in yards allowed (470.3 ypg). However, the Ducks have held opponents to just 24.3 ppg, by forcing the second-most turnovers of any team in the conference (12).