Nine for nine
Wide receiver Kevin Smith was critical in the UW’s near-comeback against Stanford and will play another critical role against Oregon if the Huskies are to beat the Ducks.
Wide receiver Kevin Smith was critical in the UW’s near-comeback against Stanford and will play another critical role against Oregon if the Huskies are to beat the Ducks.Photo by Joshua Bessex
The last time the Washington football team beat Oregon, most current UW students were in elementary school. The “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy was still incomplete. Saddam Hussein was a free man. Miley Cyrus was 11.
The world today is a different place. But if the UW’s terribly tight defeat last weekend is any indication, Saturday will be the UW’s best chance in a decade to win the Border War. (And let me remind you, the UW still comfortably leads the all-time series, 58-42.)
Here are nine reasons the Huskies just might overthrow their masters to the south:
1. Keith Price
’Nuff said. The senior turned in a performance for the ages against Stanford, giving every indication he can throw against any defense in the nation. As long as he’s in the game, the Huskies have a chance.
2. A step up in competition
Dominant as the Ducks have been, they’re taking a pronounced step up in class this weekend after beating up on middleweights for the season’s first month. There’s a huge difference between a top-15 team and a top-50 team.
The Ducks like to burst out to a huge lead then use their opponent’s need to score quickly against it. If the UW can keep it close during the first half, Oregon will be in an unfamiliar position — playing a second half that actually matters.
Yards per play is probably the statistic that best measures a team’s overall effectiveness. The goal of each individual play, after all, is to gain as much as possible. And the Oregon offense averages 8.17 yards per play, the third best total in the nation.
But the UW defense is allowing just 3.94 yards per play, also the third best mark in the whole country. The Huskies haven’t yet faced an elite offense, but halfway through the season, there’s every indication they possess a legitimately elite defense.
4. The shifted safeties
Key to that defense has been the sideline-to-sideline play of Shaq Thompson, John Timu, and — particularly last week — Travis Feeney. All three play linebacker, but all three came to the UW recruited as safeties, and all three still possess the speed and range of secondary players while sacrificing little, if anything, in terms of strength and physicality.
In particular, Thompson, an especially sure tackler, is pretty close to the prototype of a defender one might draw up to stop Oregon.
5. An empty tank
Maybe Oregon will decide to drive to the game instead of fly, and maybe the team buses will run low on gas after they’ve already crossed the border, and maybe, just maybe, the Ducks, confused by the need to pump their own, won’t know what to do and won’t make it to Seattle for kickoff. You never know.
6. Man-ball out wide
It got lost in the shuffle after the dramatic conclusion, but Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams were, to use a technical term, beastly against Stanford.
Their blocking from the wide-receiver position opened up the UW’s horizontal passing game, and their collective disdain for the idea of cornerbacks trying to guard them allowed for some truly spectacular catches during the waning moments. If Price gets in trouble, he knows where to turn with the ball.
The game kicks off at 1 p.m., but the festivities will begin at 6 a.m. when ESPN begins its broadcast live from Red Square. That leaves seven hours in between for the Dawg Pack to get “ready to go,” as Steve Sarkisian likes to slyly put it. Plenty of time, right?
8. Who DAT?
De’Anthony Thomas, who Snoop Dogg nicknamed “Black Mamba” at 12 (seriously), is so fast he sometimes appears to break the laws of physics. He injured his right ankle two weeks ago and missed Oregon’s win over Colorado last week. His status for Saturday is still up in the air, and the Huskies surely wouldn’t mind his absence.
9. Alejandro Maldonado
The former UW commit missed two field goals during Oregon’s lone loss of 2012, a 17-14 defeat to Stanford. You can trust that Duck hearts will start beating a lot faster if he trots onto the field with the game on the line.
And one reason they won’t …
Look, it’s Oregon, the most dominant team in the Pac-12 the past five years and the owner of perhaps the most consistently explosive offense in college football history. In the past nine years, the UW has never come closer than 17 points. The Huskies should keep it closer than that, but a win? I’ll believe it when I see it.
The pick: Oregon 49, Washington 34
Reach columnist Kevin Dowd at email@example.com. Twitter: @KevinDowd
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