#23 Washington vs. #2 Oregon: A Preview

By REED NELSON

“He’s putting up Heisman numbers!”

“He’s got wheels…”

“The best we’ve seen since Elway.”

Rhetorical hyperbole and college football go together like coffee and cigarettes, making phrases like “The Next So and So” and “Fastest Ever” and “Win or go home” during the Sunday-to-Friday analysis seem normal, appropriate even.

But, sadly, rarely are players The Next anything; Deion Sanders and Joey Galloway will always be faster and, win or lose, most teams travel home.

The broadcasts get even more carried away; interceptions turn into “travesties,” a bad call is an “abomination,” celebrating a touchdown raucously is “staining the game,” players “battle in the trenches” and those in the booth see the “worst (insert noun of your choice here) they have ever seen” on a weekly basis.

They are the polar opposites of racing writers. If they were calling an oil change in a Plymouth, the dropping of a wrench would be “a jarring turn of events.” Oil stains on the pants would be “battle scars from a noble chore” and the old filter would have been “grounded and pounded into submission.”

In college football, the only thing blasphemous is the Mundane.

That’s why the term “trap game” gets tossed around like MTV has it trademarked. It keeps things interesting.

It is like college football’s equivalent to local weathermen hedging their predictions with the “10 percent chance of rain” caveat that always accompanies a forecast.

(Side note: If I were to take a mulligan on college, I’d consider meteorology as a field of study. I’m sure it’s competitive, but no one has it easier than the weather man. If they’re right, they’re loved by the masses for their crucial open line of communication with Mother Nature. If they’re wrong, nobody cares. Nobody. They’re weathermen, they’re supposed to be wrong. And if saying “10 percent chance of rain” every morning saves you from a mob of angry, wet, literal-types who will only leave the house with an umbrella when directed to do so, then rock on weatherman, you’re doing something right. I wish I was part of your exclusive fraternity. Quick question though: Have you initiated ESPN’s Chris Broussard? I’ve never seen someone climb the ranks of a media empire using the risky tactic of being wrong 90 percent of the time, on air, and have it succeed to such a degree. It was a bold move. I swear I heard this from Broussard during the summer: “Yeah John, so I’ve been from hearing sources that Dwight Howard has narrowed his wish-list to three teams: The Lakers, Spartak Saint Petersburg and the Monstars, from the film Space Jam. The Monstars seemed to be making the hardest push this past week, but don’t count out that Russian team. I like the name ‘Spartak.’ It reminds me of Gerard Butler. If I had to guess where Howard will wind up, I’d go with the Russian one right now. If they have Gerard Butler, I don’t see how he could say no. Oh, and I also hear from my sources inside the Lakers that there is a 10 percent chance that Dwight could end up in LA. And there is also a 24 percent chance that Pao Gasol is related to Geoffrey the Giraffe. That’s all I know for now, I’ll keep you guys posted.” OK, maybe that wasn’t exactly how it went. But it was close. I like your shoe-leather tactics, Chris, just make sure you get a hold of Mister Swackhammer when John Wall finally wakes up and notices that he’s playing for the Wizards.)

My apologies for the tangent — We’re back.

Am I guilty of this tendency toward the Dogmatic, an attraction to the absurd? Of course. But, all things considered, do I consider this a “trap game?” Was the iceberg a Titanic Trap? No. It was just there, an obstacle to overcome. Hopefully the Ducks are more proficient (and agile) then the ill-fated passenger liner. It’s not like Oregon has won eight straight games in this series or anything…

So settle down with the whole “trap game” thing, people. Washington beat Stanford, they didn’t defeat the New England Patriots, destroy the Death Star or end Nicki Minaj’s chart domination.

And Stanford is about as multidimensional as a line; they are simply a good team with a great defense. That great defense happened to let them down twice last Thursday, and in big ways:

Washington RB Bishop Sankey’s 61-yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter occurred on a 4th-and-1 play, that had the Cardinal stacked up in a goal line defense. Sankey got outside and there was no second-level help to stop Washington’s speedy back.

The second lapse occurred with Stanford leading 13-10 and just 4:53 left on the clock. In a 3rd-and-short situation, Washington’s Kasen Williams ran a bubble out, grabbed a quick pass, broke one tackle and caught a pressing Stanford defense off guard for 35 yards and a touchdown.

Take away the two atypical big plays and the game looks much different. I’m not trying to (totally) discount the Huskies huge upset victory, I’m just trying to keep it in perspective. Stanford is not a team that is going to engage in a shootout and Oregon is like Wyatt Earp and Autzen is their Tombstone, CO.  This week is going to be very different.

Keys to victory (Or how Oregon makes their last real home game until November)

The “Best QB on the Field” title matters
For the first time all season, the Ducks actually face a QB whose name was known outside of FanBlog circles*. Keith Price is no Lady Gaga when it comes to international nominal recognition, but he is a quarterback who has shown spunk in tough games, and the ability to play within his mediocre-to-good skill set, which is exactly what made him a dark horse Heisman contender this summer. Marcus Mariota, who (all together now) is just a Red Shirt freshman, has become a “It’s his first time handling (_ _ _ _)” with a pulse. That’s right, he’s become an unfinished statement with a pulse (whatever that means). If he can put together a nice game that combines efficient passing, solid reads in the option attack and an effectively suppressed urge to go all Jake-The-Snake-Hero-Mode on us, this should be the ninth straight blowout in the series for the Ducks. If not, Washington’s defense is much improved from last year’s caboose status in the FBS and would love to spoon feed Keith Price with some momentum. During warmups, the 6’5 Mariota wins the eye test, but Keith Price has the experience.

So does the “Best Back on the Field”…
Similar to Oregon’s last game at Autzen (when Oregon shut down Arizona’s KaDeem Carey), Washington comes in with a confident running game. Bishop Sankey ran for 144 yards on 20 carries (7.2 yards per carry) against a tough, tough Stanford run defense, but, as I mentioned earlier, those stats are slightly warped in Sankey’s favor. Take away the anomaly of a 61-yard touchdown run occurring on 4th-and-1, and Sankey ran for 83 yards on 19 carries, which knocks his average down to 4.3 ypc. No, you can’t just forget about 61 yards — he earned ’em, he can keep ’em #GiveReggiesHeismanBack — but leading up to this game I’m much more impressed with Kenjon Barner’s 80-yard touchdown run on first down than Sankey’s big gain on busted run coverage. If Oregon can shut down Sankey, a feat that LSU had no issue accomplishing (8 rushes, 16 yards), then the weight of Washington’s offense falls squarely upon Price’s shoulder’s. That formula hasn’t exactly played into Washington’s favor as of late; the Huskies work better when they operate a 50/50 pass-vs.-run attack, and to do that, they need Sankey to be effective.

The development of Oregon’s secondary
Have the last two weeks been an aberration, or can Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell shut down the Washington receivers and further add to the mounting pile of evidence in support of the notion that they are, in fact, good corner backs? A good game would move them closer to an answer. And an answer moves them closer to a potentially dominant defense. While this responsibility doesn’t rest solely on Oregon’s corners, those two have given DC Nick Alioti the confidence and the freedom to dial up some complex blitz packages. Not only has the I.E.O. Speedwagon had sticky fingers (8 team interceptions, 9th in the country), their solid man-coverage skills have allowed Oregon’s defensive line and linebacking corps to go all Capital One Interest Rate Ham on quarterbacks all season (the defense ranks 11th in the country with 16 sacks).

Washington’s shoddy run defense
Saturday night’s game could very well come down to one question: Forget stopping it, can Washington even slow down an Oregon rushing attack that has been averaging 303 yards per game? LSU (who average 229 rushing ypg), hung 242 rushing yards on the Washington defense, and sapped the soul from the D-Line like a Dementor from Harry Potter. If they can hold it together, the game might stay close. If they can’t, it could be Arizona 2.0. And 2.0 is always scarier than the Beta version.

Key number: 28. That’s been the average margin of victory for Oregon in the last four meetings between these two.

Prediction: Oregon 63, Washington 27

Footnotes

  • Unless you count Derek Carr, speaking of “Heisman numbers.” But his last name is Carr, and unfortunately for him, given his choice of schools, he has managed to create no distance between his own legacy and his brother’s. None. History, history, history. Let’s settle down on the Carr love. Jump


Categories: Analysis, Best of..., Features, News & Notes, Previews

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