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Oregon Ducks vs. Washington Huskies Preview and Prediction

Chris Petersen

Chris Petersen

Coinciding with Oregon's ascent atop the Pac-12 mountain is a winning streak of 11 games against rival Washington.

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The Huskies' last win, in 2003, is the perhaps the sole remarkable moment of the short-lived Keith Gilbertson era.

Since that meeting on Nov. 1 almost 12 years ago, Washington football endured some brutal lows — 1-10 and 0-12 finishes in 2004 and '08 — with modest peaks. A nine-win 2013 is Washington's best finish since, and that season also looked like the Huskies' best opportunity to unseat Oregon.

That is, until this year's encounter.

After two near-misses against nationally ranked Boise State and Cal, Washington got over the hump with a 17-12 win last week at USC. The victory has the Huskies showing some swagger, in stark contrast of the identity crisis suddenly stumbling Oregon faces.

The Ducks need a road win to avoid falling below .500 and digging a virtually insurmountable 1-3 hole in Pac-12 play.

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Oregon at Washington

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Washington -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Dictating Tempo

The Pac-12 has teams that rely on a physical defensive presence to set the tone — specifically, Stanford and Utah. However, the Cardinal and Utes both have the offensive personnel to put up points as needed.

Washington's defense has been wildly impressive through the season's first half, holding opponents to 15 points per game, good for 14th in the nation. But with a true freshman quarterback, Jake Browning, at the offensive controls, the Huskies lack the firepower to compete in a high-tempo affair.

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Washington wants to drag the pace down several RPMs from Oregon's typical rate. A combined score below 50 points behooves the Huskies' style of play, whereas the Ducks need to set a fast tempo at some point. It need not be early; many of Oregon's best wins have come with second-, third-, even fourth-quarter avalanches as was the case in the Ducks' 2013 win at Washington.

2. Which Quarterback Shows Up?

Quarterback play can be overvalued, but not in the case of Saturday's matchup. Oregon's well-documented issues at the position this season, stemming from Vernon Adams' injured finger, play a profound role in the functioning of the Ducks' up-tempo offense.

Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie have split the role to mixed results. Lockie threw for a pair of touchdowns last week against Washington State, and Alie rushed for one, but there's an unquestionable dip in passing production from either of the two when compared to a healthy Adams.

For Washington, the talented Browning has shown flashes of brilliance, but little consistency. His inability to sustain drives or connect on the deep ball limits what the Huskies can do, despite featuring a talented corps of pass catchers with receivers Jaydon Mickens and Brayden Lenius, and tight end Joshua Perkins.

3. Can Washington Stop Royce Freeman?

Oregon's offense starts with star running back Royce Freeman. He's been a rock despite the revolving door at quarterback, most recently going for 246 yards and two touchdowns against Washington State.

His effort against the Cougars was for naught; Oregon suffered defensive lapses that allowed Washington State's prolific offense to come roaring back. But against the less explosive Huskies, a similar night from the sophomore power-back would be enough to spoil Washington's night.

The Huskies were gashed via the run repeatedly early last week at USC, but the Trojans surprisingly abandoned the run for much of the second half. Washington can expect no such reprieve from Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost this week.

Final Analysis

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The stakes for this year's rivalry showdown between Washington and Oregon are especially high. This is a pivotal Saturday for both teams.

Oregon's season is on the brink after back-to-back home losses, both in conference play and both in uncharacteristic fashion. Utah destroyed the Ducks, virtually from bell-to-bell, while Washington State rallied in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime and scoring a comeback win in extra frames.

A loss at Montlake Saturday drops Oregon to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12, with games against Cal, Stanford and USC still looming. The prospect of a sub-.500 season suddenly looms.

With its win at USC, Washington has positive momentum and a chance to play spoiler in the Pac-12 North. This also is the Huskies' best opportunity to snap the skid in several years. Sustaining a loss in the current conditions of the rivalry would be especially disheartening.

Two of Washington head coach Chris Petersen's marquee wins at Boise State came at the expense of Oregon, but he's 0-1 against the Ducks since moving to the Pac-12. He led less talented BSU teams over better-tuned Oregon squads in the past.

With Oregon struggling and Washington surging, the streak is primed to end this weekend.

Prediction: Washington 28, Oregon 27

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.