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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

October 17, 2014 at 11:21 AM

Pac-12 predictions: Can the UW defense finally take down Mariota and the Oregon offense?

UW's Andrew Hudson sacks Oregon's Marcus Mariota during the Ducks' victory in Eugene in 2012. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

UW’s Andrew Hudson sacks Oregon’s Marcus Mariota during the Ducks’ victory in Eugene in 2012. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)


By now you’ve probably heard that Chris Petersen is 2-0 against Oregon. And you probably don’t need another reminder that the Huskies have lost 10 in a row to the Ducks.

Is Petersen the coach to finally get Washington over the Oregon hurdle? And can the Huskies make that leap Saturday?

We’re not ruling out that possibility.

In his last game at Autzen Stadium, Petersen’s Boise State Broncos knocked off 17th-ranked Oregon 37-32 in 2008. It was the first road start for a redshirt freshman quarterback named Kellen Moore, and it was Boise State’s first road win ever over a Power Five program.

The next season, in Chip Kelly’s first game as the Oregon head coach, Petersen’s Broncos shut down the Ducks in a 19-8 victory marred by LeGarrette Blount’s postgame tirade.

Pete Kwiatkowski, UW’s first-year defensive coordinator, was Boise’s D-line coach for both of those wins over Oregon.

“Philosophy-wise, they are the same,” Kwiatkowski said. “They’re fast, zone read. Maybe a little more gap schemes in terms of power, but a lot of it is the same. They’ll formation you a little bit, but the whole thing with them is their tempo. They are going to go fast, they are going to get lined up and they are going to go. We’ve got to match it.”

The Huskies matched it for about three quarters last season. And yet, even in a game in which the Huskies felt they played pretty well on defense, the Ducks still managed to pull away for a 21-point win.

The 20.5-point spread feels too high this time.

The Ducks lost their last home game, 31-24 to Arizona two weeks ago, and they don’t seem to have quite the same firepower. Other than that Marcus Mariota guy, of course.

Mariota had probably the best game of his career Husky Stadium last year. If he’s that good again, the Huskies probably don’t have much of a chance Saturday.

Then again, this is UW’s best defense in at least a decade, right? Shaq Thompson continues to surprise us — it would be a surprise if he didn’t continue to surprise us — and Hau’oli Kikaha is hungry to do something he does better than anyone in college football: get to the quarterback.

“He has to be taken down,” Kikaha said of his new friend, Mariota.

This also feels like a game made for Budda Baker. UW’s true freshman safety will need to play well — really well — which means playing fast and tackling fast guys in open space, which are his strengths. He just hasn’t ever had to do it against an elite offense or in the kind of environment he’ll face at Autzen Stadium. But it would be something, wouldn’t it, if his first career interception was the first thrown this season by a Heisman front-runner?

What does UW have to do to win this game?

The strategy isn’t much different than most games: run the ball and stop the run. And take care of the ball, which UW has done better than anyone in the country.

Every year in 2006, the Ducks have led the Pac-12 in rushing, and that hasn’t changed, despite a different style with two bigger backs in Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner getting the bulk of the carries. Still, the Ducks are averaging 98 yards less than they did two years ago on the ground (running 58 percent of the time now, compared to 64 percent in 2012). They’re still a great running team, but they’re also running into a great run defense. The Huskies will try to make them one-dimensional — which might sound a bit strange, considering the youth and lack of depth in the UW secondary — but UW’s best shot is to make Mariota beat them with his arm, and not his feet.

The Huskies, meanwhile, have struggled to build a consistent rushing attack. They don’t necessarily need to play keep-away from the Ducks — that strategy doesn’t matter much an Oregon offense that can score so quickly — but sustaining some drives would give the UW defense some rest and allow them to be fresher for a potential fourth-quarter push.

It probably goes without saying, but Cyler Miles has to have a great game, too. He was good last week at Cal; he’ll need to be even better this week.

And Mariota will need to make a few mistakes.

All that’s possible, but it’s hard to predict all that coming together perfectly for the Huskies this time.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Washington 27.

Around the Pac-12:

UCLA at Cal: The Bruins’ defense has been awfully average, and UCLA might be the biggest disappointment in the Pac-12 so far. Figure, though, that the Bruins will be able to move the ball against that Cal defense. The pick: UCLA 38, Cal 35.

Colorado at USC: Sorry, Sark: There’s no way USC is a top-five team. But the Trojans are good enough to beat the Buffs at home. The pick: USC 45, Colorado 31.

Stanford at Arizona State: Call it a gut feeling here: Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Sun Devils have a great shot to finally knock off Stanford. The pick: ASU 24, Stanford 20.



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