The Oregon-Washington rivalry really got away from one side and then the other.
During the Ducks’ dominant 12-game winning streak in the series from 2004-2015, their average margin of victory was 23.8 points.
The Huskies finally counterpunched with a vengeance, winning the last two meetings by an average of 42 points.
Entering Saturday’s border conflict between No. 17 Oregon and No. 7 Washington at Autzen Stadium (12:30 p.m., ABC), it appears the two sides are more evenly matched and the bragging rights could go back and forth between the North Division heavyweights in the years to come.
“It’s critically important for both programs involved. We understand that,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “We also understand the importance of making sure that we attack practice and preparation with passion and not emotion. …
“Passion is pure fuel that’s never-ending, you’re tank is never going to run out of passion. Emotion, that’s short-lived fuel.”
The rich tradition and bright future of the 118-year rivalry will be on display in the stands with two passionate generations of Millen boys in attendance.
Hugh Millen, the former Husky and longtime NFL quarterback, will participate in a pregame show for a Seattle radio station and then watch Jake Browning try to deliver a third consecutive win over Oregon for the Pac-12 favorite Huskies (5-1, 3-0).
Cale Millen, Hugh’s oldest son, will be on the home team’s sideline before kickoff with other visiting recruits. The late-blooming quarterback prospect is verbally committed to the Ducks, and his younger brother, Clay, already has an Oregon offer.
“I love my alma mater more than I love pizza, but I love my son more than I love my alma mater,” Millen said of Cale’s decision. “And there’s absolutely no nostalgia or anything that’s going to creep in about my career. Now this is his life. …
“The fact that Oregon has emerged as the best place for him, I think it’s great for his life and I have 100 percent support for him.”
There are reasons for father and son to be optimistic about their side of the rivalry.
Cristobal’s 2019 recruiting class, which includes Cale Millen, is ranked third by Rivals and fourth by 247Sports.
The present is looking pretty good, too, with Justin Herbert leading the Ducks (4-1, 1-1).
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior’s first career start was the infamous 70-21 loss to Washington in 2016. Herbert missed last year’s 38-3 drubbing at Husky Stadium because of a fractured collarbone.
“It’s going to be great,” wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said of having an experienced and healthy Herbert on Saturday. “I love (backup quarterback) Braxton (Burmeister), that’s my guy. But he’s a different type of player than Braxton, they’re two different type of guys. It’s going to be great having him out there slinging it around.
“I mean, he’s Justin. He’s such a distraction for defenses, and you have to try to contain him so much, so I feel like it’s going to open it up for everybody.”
Chris Petersen has built Washington into a top-10 program, which represented the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff in 2016 and went to the Fiesta Bowl last season after losing the North Division tiebreaker to Stanford.
Browning, a four-year starter, is the school’s career passing leader (10,612 yards), and fellow senior Myles Gaskin is the school’s career rushing leader (4,609 yards).
Two years ago, Browning become a part of Husky lore by pointing at Oregon linebacker Jimmie Swain while scoring one of his eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing).
The 70 points scored by Washington were the most by either side in the series.
“The score, the point, whatever you want to look at during that game, the whole game was a bad game on our part,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “So we’ve got to look at it, dissect it and move on from that point.”
The Huskies’ balanced offense is backed by the nation’s third-ranked scoring defense (13.7 ppg) and 13th-ranked total defense (304.5 ypg).
The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in points (45.6 per game) and yards (503.6 per game).
“It’s probably a combination of just really athletic guys and a coaching staff that gets them in the right position," Herbert said of facing Washington. "When you’ve got coaches like that teaching players like that, then it’s a good defense.”
Browning said after the game two years ago that he regretted “The Point.”
A photo of the play hung in Oregon’s locker last year, but neither side needs any extra motivation this time.
“It doesn’t have as much of an emphasis as it had last year, it’s just the way this rivalry is,” Ducks left guard Shane Lemieux said. “Rather than looking at just that one picture of him pointing, look at the rivalry of generations of alumni who just really don’t like the Huskies and play for our past alumni.”