Why Kirk Herbstreit’s eye is on potential UW Huskies rematch vs Oregon

Nov 7, 2023, 12:03 PM | Updated: 12:13 pm

UW Huskies Oregon Ducks...

The UW Huskies and Oregon Ducks line up for a play at Husky Stadium on Oct. 14, 2023 in Seattle. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Longtime ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit has now seen the No. 5 UW Huskies up close twice this season, most recently last Saturday’s 52-42 Washington win at USC.

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After that game, Seattle Sports’ Brock Huard – a fellow former quarterback and current analyst who broadcasts for FOX – said he could sense something from Herbstreit.

“It sure seems like, from afar, you have some affinity for this Husky team – the way they’re built, the way (coach Kalen DeBoer) is doing it,” Huard said on Tuesday’s edition of Brock and Salk. “You’ve seen them now twice – give me your biggest takeaway.”

Herbstreit, who was in the booth alongside play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, explained why it may have seemed that way.

“You’re never rooting for teams, but Brock, you know what it’s like when you do these games, get a chance to get around players,” Herbstreit said. “It’s one thing to watch film, it’s another thing to go into production meetings, to go out to practice and kind of watch guys when they’re not in the limelight and kind of see the personality of some the players. I’m just really impressed with the intangibles, the wiring, the culture that I talked about on Saturday quite a bit.”

DeBoer, who is in his second year at the helm of the Huskies program, has particularly impressed Herbstreit.

“I really like Kalen as a head coach. If I were playing today, he would be a guy that I would really I think vibe with and be drawn towards – just me on on a personal level,” said Herbstreit, who quarterbacked Ohio State in the early 1990s.

Then there are two standouts on offense for the Dawgs: quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and running back Dillon Johnson, the latter of whom had a breakout performance against USC.

“You look at what Michael has been through in his journey at (Indiana) and the injuries he overcame, and what (offensive coordinator) Ryan Grubb’s doing with him in this system. And even the story with Dillon Johnson – he often gets overlooked. I think he reminded people of his importance this past game against SC,” Herbstreit said. “You could go around the whole roster, there’s just a lot of guys that it’s easy to pull for.”

Ducks and Dawgs again?

The big question now is whether the 9-0 Huskies will be able to stay on track and make the College Football Playoff. For Herbstreit, he thinks their biggest test will be a team he has already seen them play against this season.

“My biggest concern for them is is going to be in Las Vegas,” Herbstreit said, referring to the Pac-12 Championship game on Dec. 1. “I feel like Oregon, you could make the case that they’re as good as any team in the country.”

Washington beat Oregon 36-33 with Herbstreit in the booth on Oct. 14 at Husky Stadium, handing the No. 6 Ducks their only loss this season as Oregon missed a field goal that would have tied the game at the end of regulation.

Why does Herbstreit think Oregon could beat the Dawgs if they meet again with the conference title on the line?

“The reason I like Oregon, kind of like what Washington has, you’ve got a quarterback (Bo Nix) who’s been through some trials and tribulations,” he said. “I think if you go back and really study that (Oct. 14) game in a really tough environment at Husky Stadium, Oregon played really well and ended up missing the kick late. If there’s one game that would you be concerned about the (Huskies’) defense, it would be matching up against Oregon and against that speed and against Bo Nix.”

The pressure would be on the Huskies’ offense in that rematch, as it’s been much better than Washington’s defense this season.

“Does it become another one of those games where Penix has got to be hot? It’s almost like in March Madness when a team makes a run and they’re really good at 3-point shooting, and they gotta rely on hitting 38% from the 3s and you’ve got to score 90 points,” Herbstreit said. “It’s that kind of potential matchup, and if Oregon and Washington get together, kind of like what they did last (time), it’s great when you’re delivering. But what if you’re not converting on third down? What if, for whatever reason, you don’t have it? Can you rely on the defense and finding a different way to win the game? I’m not saying they can’t.”

Of course, with a big matchup Saturday at Husky Stadium against No. 13 Utah, there’s the potential of a misstep even before any potential Pac-12 Championship matchup with Oregon.

“Like this week against Utah, it would be interesting to see how that game goes, and can the defense dig in and makes some plays?” Herbstreit said to Huard, who will call Saturday’s game on FOX. “You know, (Washington has) had some injuries on that side of the football, but especially on the back end at safety. They’re going to have to, at some point, make some plays if they’re going to really make a run here, win a Pac-12 championship and get into the playoff.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

More on the UW Huskies

Who is UW Huskies’ Dillon Johnson? Huard on RB’s breakout game
AP Top 25: No respect for unbeaten UW Huskies’ latest win
Caple’s Takeaways: UW Huskies stay unbeaten with shootout win over USC

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