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BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Win at Washington would launch Ducks into orbit for title

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon wide receiver Jaylon Redd celebrates a touchdown with teammates as the Ducks defeat Colorado. No doubt, the two big No. 10s will attract plenty of attention — Oregon's Justin Herbert and Washington's Jacob Eason.

There'll be offensive lines with pro prospects, and some playmakers at the skill positions.

A great defense, so far, will try to make an impact (Oregon's) and a rebuilt defense will try to do the same (Washington's).

How does a second-year head coach (UO's Mario Cristobal) and his staff fare against a big-time coach (Chris Petersen) and his staff?

And, who comes out of Saturday's 12:30 p.m. Oregon-Washington showdown at Husky Stadium with the win? If it's Oregon (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12), it would be a near clincher for the Pac-12 North Division title. If it's Washington, the Huskies (5-2, 2-2) remain alive to repeat as North champs.

It's lined up as the biggest game of the year for both teams, who just happen to be longtime bitter rivals.

  • SLIDESHOW FROM OREGON'S 30-27 OT VICTORY OVER WASHINGTON IN 2018



  • Oh, how exciting it is.

    Oregon has lost one game, on a pass play with nine seconds left. The Ducks have looked sensational on defense — 25 points allowed in the past five games — and encouraging on offense led by Herbert and his 17 TD passes against one interception.

    The Huskies have put up scores of 47, 52, 45, 28 (against USC) and 51 points in wins, but the Cal and Stanford defenses stymied Eason and Co. The UW defense, although not as good as Oregon's, has given up a respectable average of 19.6 points after losing stars from the 2018 unit.

    Call Colorado coach Mel Tucker a believer in Oregon after the Ducks severely dismantled his team, winning 45-3.

    "They pretty much do what they do, and they do it well," he said. "That's a really good football team with a lot of experience and a lot of talent. They're very well coached, and they play hard. Going into the game, I said, 'I like that team. I like the way they play.' They're going to win a lot of football games. It's one of the best teams in the country."

    Last week, I posed the question, "Is there anything the Oregon defense doesn't do well?" After another game, it's worth considering the question again. Basic tenets of defense are controlling the line of scrimmage (check), stopping the run (check), not allowing big plays (check), ball hawking on the back end (check), rushing the passer (check), possessing stars and depth (check), developing game plans and making adjustments (check), and sporting size and speed (check).

    One wonders whether the defense's bubble will ever burst or if it's legitimately great.

    Defense travels well — pardon the cliché — and UO's will be prepared to pressure Eason, set its sights on running backs Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Richard Newton, and cover the likes of Aaron Fuller and Hunter Bryant.

    Eason has thrown 13 TDs against three interceptions and passed for 241.7 yards per game at a 66% percent completion rate. The three backs have combined for 188 yards per game and 13 TDs, powered by the Trey Adams-led offensive line. Fuller leads the receivers with 40 receptions, 558 yards and five TDs.

    Cristobal is thrilled with the UO defense, led by new coordinator Andy Avalos. It has met every challenge — even slowing Auburn for long stretches in the loss.

    "During spring ball, you saw a complete transformation in the defense," Cristobal said. "The amount of pride taken by players is the most impressive thing. These guys attack. (I'm) so excited for what's to come."

    Defensive back Verone McKinley III had a telling comment after the Colorado game, perhaps identifying what could derail the Ducks' D. "We fear complacency," he said.

    The Ducks lit up Colorado for more than 500 yards, including 252 yards rushing (7 yards per carry). CJ Verdell had a 70-yard run and 171 yards on 14 carries. Herbert threw two more TD passes, making it 34 games in a row with at least one TD. The receivers continue to develop, Mycah Pittman providing depth to go with Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III and others. The offensive line has been solid. The one downer last week was tight end Jacob Breeland's knee injury; he had the makings of an all-conference season, with 26 receptions for 405 yards and six TDs.

    "We knew we were closing in on some big plays, and we saw them (against Colorado)," Cristobal said. As for the run game, which looked more prolific, "it was designed well, called well and, most importantly, the guys up front blocked it well and CJ saw it well. Once we get it right, it's going to work."

    Then again, Colorado's defense is pretty awful, especially in the secondary. The Ducks should have put up yards and points.

    Can the Ducks duplicate the output against the Huskies? Remember, if the defense holds up, the Ducks won't need many points.

    A doubter might say Oregon has a better team, but the Huskies will be playing with desperation — needing to win or be counted out in the Pac-12 North — and it's a home game with a raucous crowd and they do have the better head coach in Petersen.

    An optimist might say Oregon has something special going, a great defense and a quarterback leading a capable balanced offense. I've been bullish on the Ducks, and I'll continue to be and reverse my preseason thinking about Oregon-Washington on Saturday. I think the Ducks win.

    The pick: Oregon 31, Washington 24


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