The Oregon football team faces its sternest challenge so far in the Pac-12 Conference season in Seattle against the Huskies on Saturday in a rare day game.
In the Northwest’s most heated rivalry, the teams are evenly matched in most statistics, except conference wins. The Ducks are 3-0 and the Huskies a surprising 2-2, with both losses to North Division teams Oregon has defeated.
Pay attention to third downs in this game. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal has stressed the need to get to the 50% mark offensively and cut down explosion plays on defense. Although the defense’s conversion rate is 35 percent, Oregon has given up many gains over 10 yards on third down. This can be a game changer — momentum for the opponent, a gigantic lift, keeping a capacity crowd loudly in the game.
Washington coach Chris Petersen is widely reputed as an innovator. Watch for Husky trick plays, attempting to use the Oregon defense’s quick reactions against them. Last year, Washington scored on a reverse and successfully ran a double-reverse pass. You can bet there are more tricks in his bag.
The Ducks came up big last year against the Dawgs, winning in overtime, but only when Washington’s kicker missed a chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation that would have meant a third straight win for the purple and gold.
This year, Washington has a decisive edge in field-goal kicking, converting on 14-of-14 tries. Oregon’s Camden Lewis is 2 for 5 and has suffered from a lack of opportunities to gain confidence and momentum.
Cristobal has demonstrated frustration and a lack of confidence when most coaches routinely send their field goal team to convert an offensive drive on fourth down. This is important for this game because it could be a battle of defenses and offensive possessions may be limited.
The winds and rain swirl in Husky Stadium and can be murder on a kicker. Oregon won a game there in 1995 when the wind blew a short Husky field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter wide of the goal posts.
Having confidence when facing that challenge is as important as the efficacy of your red zone offense. The Huskies have the statistical advantage, scoring 94% when in the red zone compared to the Ducks’ 69%. If the game goes to overtime as in last year’s exciting Duck victory, the long-range weather forecast and Washington’s statistical advantage loom even larger.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He conducts a weekly coach's corner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the 6th Street Grill.