Like a broken record, talk of Oregon's winning streak over border rival Washington repeats every year. The Ducks' dominance reached 12 games last year, when Oregon survived one of the more competitive installments in the series since this run began.
The Huskies and Ducks find themselves in something of a role reversal heading into the rivalry's 2016 edition. Washington's undefeated and riding high off of a dominant win over Stanford, lavished in praise from national media that now projects the Huskies as College Football Playoff contenders.
Oregon is seeking answers after falling to 2-3 and 0-2 in Pac-12 play, losing last Saturday at Washington State. An 0-3 hole to begin the conference slate would put serious pressure on head coach Mark Helfrich to right the ship quickly.
Washington at Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Washington -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Defensive Dawgs
Washington overwhelmed Stanford last Friday, generating more pressure on Cardinal quarterbacks Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst in one night than Kevin Hogan saw most of 2015.
A shrinking pocket denied Stanford the opportunity to establish any consistency in the passing game, and Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey's rushing lanes were closed as a result.
"No. 99, No. 11 and No. 5 are in the backfield a lot," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich chuckled when asked his thoughts on the Washington defensive front. That trio of Greg Gaines, Elijah Qualls and Joe Mathis has been bringing pressure from all sides in a swarming Huskies defense.
The Huskies never unleashed a full blitz on Stanford, yet racked up eight of their nation-leading 21 sacks.
2. A New Quarterback?
In an effort to shake up the stagnation Oregon's suffered through the last three weeks, the Ducks could start true freshman Justin Herbert at quarterback. Herbert would replace Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop, who has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns (2) during the team's current three-game skid.
Herbert's role has yet to be announced by the coaching staff, though it seems only a formality.
Opening against one of the most physically imposing defensive lines in the conference, if not the nation, is certainly an unenviable spot for a youngster. However, Washington's lack of game film on Herbert might give the Ducks an edge.
3. Explosive Plays
Oregon football's hallmark has long been its explosive-play ability, but giving up such plays has been the Ducks' biggest problem for the last two seasons. Conversely, Washington's demonstrated a knack for long runs, like Lavon Coleman's breakaway touchdown in the fourth quarter at Arizona, and deep passes from quarterback Jake Browning to wide receiver John Ross.
"Having all those guys healthy around him is a huge deal," Helfrich said of Browning, alluding to Ross' return from an injury that sidelined him throughout 2015. "Excellent deep-ball thrower... Those guys get two, three, five, 10 steps on guys. He keeps them in stride and [throws] daggers."
The Ducks are giving up 280 yards per game through the air. Look for Browning to exploit the weaknesses in the secondary with devastatingly long plays via the pass, particularly in single, man-coverage situations.
One of the first questions head coach Chris Petersen was asked in his introductory press conference at Washington was how he planned to beat Oregon. Though each school plays its in-state counterpart on Rivalry Week, there's no question the most heated series for both programs is this border war, and the Ducks' decade-plus of bragging rights tweaks the Huskies.
Ty Willingham and Steve Sarkisian both exited the program without a single win over Oregon. Conversely, one must go back a few head coaches to Mike Bellotti for Oregon's last loss in the series. That should end Saturday.
Washington's too stout defensively, and quarterback Jake Browning's too poised for the Huskies to not exploit serious mismatches. Oregon's offensive shake-up could catch the Huskies off guard, much in the same way Arizona was able two weeks ago, but the Ducks lack the defensive chops to slow the Dawgs.