The Oregon Ducks are once again back home at Autzen Stadium in Eugene this weekend for the visit of the Washington Huskies (5-1, 1-1 Pac-12) who could represent a strong challenge to the hosts. Under first year head coach Chris Petersen, hired away from Boise State, the Huskies have one of the most, if not the most, opportunistic defenses in the nation. Petersen’s hire was something of a surprise as the long time Boise State fixture had previously resisted all advances from high profile programs. It’s possible, however, that the situation was just that the right offer had not come in for the 50-year old native of Yuba City, CA who has spent that vast majority of his career in the Pacific Northwest.
The decision of Steve Sarkisian to move from Seattle down to Los Angeles to take over the USC program opened the door for Petersen who inherited a team that had never won more than eight games when the former coach was in charge. The Huskies have generally recruited well, but not on a national level, with most of their talent coming from the West Coast. That will need to change if Washington are to return to heights of the program previously enjoyed under Don James, Jim Lambright and Rick Neuheisel during which the Huskies expected to challenge for a Rose Bowl berth every year.
Blessed with blistering pace on both sides of the ball, Washington has playmakers all over the defense and not so much on the offense. Linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha leads the nation with 10 sacks while Danny Shelton has seven of his own and is considered the top defensive tackle prospect in the 2015 draft. Kikaha’s fellow ‘backer Shaq Thompson has more touchdowns, four on defense and one on offense, than SMU – yes the entire team – and cornerback Marcus Peters’ only peer for defensive back play happens to sit on the Oregon sideline in the form of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
The Huskies biggest issue is a simple one; they can’t run the ball and sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles isn’t experienced enough to carry the team on his back when matched up against a quality side even with the presence of wide receiver John Ross who is third in the country with an average of 27.5 yards per catch. Such was the case in the defeat to Stanford at the Husky Stadium in Seattle at the end of September when Miles could only throw for 98 yards on 15-of-29.
Last week the opposition was the Cal Bears and Thompson’s 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown gave the visitors the lead at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. Miles would then find Joshua Perkins. DiAndre Campbell and Ross with touchdown passes as Washington jumped out to a 28-0 half time lead on their way to a 31-7 victory.
Oregon has shown a frailty in their offensive line this season, particularly when Jake Fisher has been out of the line up, and the protection for Marcus Mariota will need to be good if the Ducks are to score points. Whether the Huskies can match Oregon on the day is debatable, but Washington should be fun to watch.