Washington still has a score to settle in Seattle
SEATTLE — Part of the streak still lives.
Oregon’s 12-year reign over rival Washington came to a crashing halt with a 70-21 defeat last fall at Autzen Stadium, but the Ducks have won five consecutive games over their northern rival in Seattle.
The Huskies haven’t celebrated a win over Oregon on their home field since Keith Gilbertson was their head coach in 2003.
That was the year Steve Bartman was blamed for extending the Chicago Cubs’ World Series drought — ultimately, for another 13 seasons. It was same year USC (Associated Press) and LSU (BCS) were split national champions, well before the advent of the College Football Playoff in 2014.
Oregon, coming off a confidence-boosting win and possibly set to welcome quarterback Justin Herbert back to the lineup, will try to upset No. 12 Washington on Saturday night at Husky Stadium (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
“Everybody is just really locked in and ready to go because we know how big of a week this is,” said sophomore linebacker Troy Dye, who led the team with 11 tackles and 2?1/2 sacks during the 41-20 win over Utah. “We know what this means to this city, this town, this state. We understand it’s a big-time rivalry game, and we’ve got to go in locked in.”
Willie Taggart, like his predecessor, wants the Ducks to approach every game with the same focus and intensity.
Oregon was the hunted when Mark Helfrich went 3-0 against rebuilding Washington from 2013-15 before Chris Petersen’s program won the Pac-12 and was selected for the College Football Playoff in his third season.
The Ducks (5-4, 2-4) are 17-point underdogs entering Taggart’s first meeting with the Huskies (7-1, 4-1).
“Our guys understand how important it is when you’re playing these games,” Taggart said. “Every game is a rivalry. Once you start getting up and down for a game, then you don’t become the football team that you want. You look at football teams like Alabama, I guarantee every game they play is a rivalry.
“We understand the importance. Washington is the team in the conference, that’s the team you want to beat.”
Herbert, who suffered a fractured collarbone on Sept. 30 against California, took first-team snaps in practice during the week and is listed as the co-starter on the depth chart with true freshman Braxton Burmeister.
The Ducks lost their first three games without Herbert until blowing out Utah with a dominant rushing game, a key defensive touchdown and a touchdown pass thrown by wide receiver Charles Nelson.
“If he’s ready this week we’ll play him, and if not then we won’t,” Taggart said of Herbert. “We’re going to continue to practice him and let him continue to get better, but we’re not going to put him out there in harm’s way and let him re-injure himself.”
Oregon’s offense will be facing its toughest test of the season with or without Herbert.
Washington is second in the FBS in total defense (236.3 ypg) and rushing defense (71.6 ypg) and fourth in scoring defense (12.1 ppg). During the past three games, the Huskies have allowed 62 rushing yards on 86 carries (0.7 yards per carry).
Royce Freeman accounted for 139 of the Ducks’ 347 net rushing yards against the Utes. It was the senior running back’s sixth 100-yard rushing game this season and added to Freeman’s Oregon career rushing record (5,242 yards).
Burmeister was 9-for-12 passing against Utah with one touchdown and no interceptions, but his longest completion was for 15 yards.
“We needed this win not only for the team but for Braxton to get his confidence in us and for us to have confidence in him,” running back Tony Brooks-James said.
Jim Leavitt’s improved defense will face a familiar challenge in trying to contain Washington quarterback Jake Browning, running back Myles Gaskin and wide receiver Dante Pettis.
Browning, a junior, has 73 career touchdowns passes and is on the verge of breaking Keith Price’s school record of 75 set from 2010 to 2013.
Gaskin rushed for 169 yards during the Huskies win over UCLA last week. His 33 career rushing touchdowns trail only Napoleon Kaufman (34) and Bishop Sankey (37) on Washington’s career list.
Pettis has six touchdown receptions and three punt returns for touchdowns this season. The senior has 1,194 career punt return yards and needs 42 to become the Pac-12’s all-time leader.
The Huskies are the Pac-12’s last hope for the College Football Playoff, but the selection committee slotted them 12th in its first rankings of the season.
“They’re a team that played Alabama tough in a semifinal game,” Leavitt said. “That game was really about a touchdown difference until the fourth quarter and it ended up being 24-7. They played them off their feet. Very similar team. They’re about the same. They’re just very, very good.”
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @rgduckfootball . Email firstname.lastname@example.org .