BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Herbert-led Oregon has the firepower to stick with Huskies

Winless UCLA was the latest team to try to figure out how to move the ball and score points against Washington, and the Bruins scored 24 points in a 31-24 loss last weekend. That's three touchdowns and a field goal.

A pretty good offensive mind, Chip Kelly, the head man at UCLA and former Oregon coach, had a first-hand look at the UW defense.

"(Washington) is the No. 1 defense in the country, you just have to keep poking and figure out what works," Kelly said. "You can't just be one-dimensional."

Washington entered allowing 11.6 points per game, the fewest among FBS teams, and still ranks near the top at 13.7 points. The Huskies also give up only 304.5 yards per game, second to Utah in the Pac-12. Translation: It'll be a challenge for the Oregon Ducks and QB Justin Herbert when the Northwest rivals play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

It has shaped up to be a great game, at least on paper. The Ducks won 12 recent games in a row in the series, but the Huskies under coach Chris Petersen have responded with consecutive routs by a combined 108-24.

The No. 7 Huskies (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) have won five consecutive games since an opening loss to nationally ranked Auburn. The No. 17 Ducks (4-1, 1-1) have moved past their weak nonleague schedule to outplay Stanford (but lose) and then win a Pac-12 road game at Cal.

Oregon has an opportunity to beat Washington, and that wouldn't be a huge upset. The Ducks have a great quarterback, a more physical and mentally tough team than in recent seasons and a playmaking defense, and have had a bye week to prepare for the Huskies.

I think it'll be close. I still see Washington winning. But, Oregon has some good things going on; barring an injury to Herbert, they'll win at least eight games.

Like Kelly said, a Washington opponent has to be multi-dimensional and, while the Ducks don't run the ball as consistently as in past years, they have the potential with CJ Verdell, Travis Dye and Tony Brooks-James — mostly because of the offensive line and Herbert at the helm and showing the ability to pick up key yards.

The Huskies give up 129.8 yards rushing, third in the Pac-12 behind Utah and Oregon.

Herbert helps elevate the offense, especially with his arm. He has a legitimate go-to receiver in Dillon Mitchell and a nice option with tight end Jacob Breeland. The Ducks rank 11th in the country in third-down conversion (50 percent).

The Huskies give up 174.7 yards passing, second to WSU in the Pac-12. Washington has the best secondary in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country, led by safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback Byron Murphy.

Most important is that it appears Oregon has more physicality to match UW's defensive front.

But, UW's defense really stiffens in the red zone.

"They're big, physical, disciplined, athletic. They're a complete defense," UO coach Mario Cristobal says. "They know their scheme well. Very good fundamentally."

One thing to watch: Oregon has scored seven second-half offensive points in each of the first two Pac-12 games. That's not good.

Defensively, the Ducks can put pressure on veteran UW quarterback Jake Browning with the likes of Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins, and the rush defense performed well against Bryce Love in the Stanford loss (before allowing too much yardage to Cal and QB Brandon McIlwain). It'll be important to shut down UW's run game, which features three good backs in Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew, and make Browning beat them with his arm; he does have a standout receiver in Aaron Fuller.

The Ducks have good players against the run (Jordon Scott, Troy Dye) and roaming the secondary against the pass (Ugo Amadi). But, like Oregon, Washington converts third downs well (51.47 percent, seventh in the country).

The Huskies have won their Pac-12 games by 14 points (Utah), 7 points (ASU) and 7 points (UCLA). They are not blowing out teams. I'm not seeing a blowout against the Ducks.

It's going to be a competitive and exciting game, befitting the rivalry. Washington still has designs on representing the Pac-12 in the national playoff, and it'll get past the huge road block at Autzen.

THE PICK: Washington 34, Oregon 31

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