By Brent Stecker
What a difference a week makes.
Last Monday, the Huskies were enjoying their first 4-0 start since 2001 and feeling optimistic about upsetting No. 5 Stanford for their fifth win of the season.
But the Huskies didn’t pull off that upset – though they came close – and now they’re 1-1 in Pac-12 play with No. 2 Oregon coming to town for a game that has serious league-title implications.
“If we want to remain in the hunt in the Pac-12 North, we need to win Saturday,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday.
Oregon’s offense ranks second among FBS teams in points (59.2) and yards per game (630.4) this season. (AP)
The Huskies, who dropped only one spot in the AP Top 25 to No. 16 following their first loss, haven’t topped the rival Ducks in a long time. Oregon is on a nine-game winning streak against Washington, dating back to 2004.
This may be one of the most talented Oregon teams during that stretch, as well. The Ducks rank second in the nation in both points for (59.2) and points against (11.8), and quarterback Marcus Mariota has been on fire, throwing for 1,358 yards, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions, and rushing for 338 yards and seven touchdowns on just 28 carries (12.1 average) in their five wins this season.
“We obviously have a tremendous challenge this week with Oregon coming to town and all of the things they do so well in all three phases of the game,” Sarkisian said. “We have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited for the opportunity to show what we’re made of. I think this team is going to respond extremely well.”
The Ducks will pose a much different challenge than Stanford’s bruising style on offense, as they’re well known for their high-flying ways and breakneck speed.
“It’s such a drastic change in philosophy. When you go from a Stanford to an Oregon, you don’t have too long to dwell on Stanford and that ballgame,” Sarkisian said. “We have to learn from it, but we have to get ready for a completely different style in Oregon this week.
“They go fast and they execute really well. They have premier speed on the perimeter, whether it’s at running back or wide receiver, and obviously Marcus is playing at such a high level, whether it’s throwing it or running it.”
Sark doesn’t back down from faking accusation
Sarkisian made it clear Saturday that he wasn’t happy with several Stanford defensive players laying on the ground after plays in the second half, implying that he believed some of them were faking injuries to slow down the Huskies’ fast-paced offense.
“Their defensive-line coach (former Washington assistant Randy Hart) was telling them to sit down,” Sarkisian said after the game. “I guess that’s how we play here at Stanford, so we’ll have to prepare for that next time. At some point, we’ll get repaid for it. That never serves a purpose for us, and we’ll never do that.”
Though Sarkisian was a little more cool-headed Monday, he didn’t back down from that statement.
“We saw what we saw. I’ll leave it that,” he said.
Shoring up special teams
Stanford burned the Huskies several times on returns Saturday, most notably Ty Montgomery’s 99-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff, and a third-quarter Montgomery return that went 68 yards after a short kick to the 16. As a result, Sarkisian said special teams are getting a lot of attention this week in practice.
“It was the first thing we did in practice, was working on how we take on those blocks in covering kickoffs, whether we use it with speed or power, and how we fit returns,” Sarkisian said. “We can execute better, but we need to coach it better to make sure that that can happen. It was a big point of emphasis of ours and will continue to be until we get to a point where we feel comfortable with it.”
Sarkisian added that he expects more out of kicker Cameron Van Winkle, who was replaced on kickoffs by Travis Coons late in the game Saturday.
“I think we can kick the ball better than we did. The only reason I say that is because I’ve seen him (Van Winkle) kick the ball better than that, in worse conditions here at Husky Stadium,” he said. “And I think we can cover better than that. But, again, we have to coach it better to make that happen.”
Price is right
Senior quarterback Keith Price had a great performance even in defeat against Stanford, passing for 350 yards and two touchdowns, but he finished the game with a banged-up thumb. Price practiced Monday despite the injury, and Sarkisian said he’s ready to go against Oregon.
“He practiced. Monday’s are typically a light day for any of our starting quarterbacks in years past, but Keith was out there. I think he’ll be fine come Saturday,” Sarkisian said.
Price has 1,394 passing yards this season to go with 11 touchdowns, three interceptions, a 71.3 completion percentage, and 163.4 quarterback rating.