The Oregon Ducks will try to do something they haven’t done in 65 years today - beat bitter Northwest rival Washington for the third year in a row.
History isn’t the only thing working against the Ducks. The game features Washington’s powerful running game against an Oregon defense that ranks 109th out of 111 teams in NCAA Division I.
In last week’s 42-21 victory over UCLA in Seattle, Washington’s Corey Dillon rushed for 145 yards and five touchdowns, tying a school record set by Hugh McElhenny in 1950.
What’s worse for the Ducks, the Huskies’ other standout tailback - Rashan Sheehee - likely will be ready to play after being plagued by injuries all season.
The wild route the Ducks took to wins over Washington in 1994 and 1995, and their lessthan-gracious behavior afterward, has added fuel to an already heated rivalry.
“I think the intensity has increased because we’ve defeated them,” Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. “Certainly a rivalry gets a lot better when both teams take turns winning. The close, hard-fought victories we’ve had the last couple of years intensified that.”
With Washington ranked 23rd and Oregon 0-4 in the Pac-10, the time seems ripe for some serious Husky revenge.
“The Huskies have a good football team,” Oregon’s Kenny Wheaton said, “and I know they’re coming in fired up because of what happened the last two years.”
Wheaton figured prominently in the Huskies’ recent frustrations. The last time Washington played in Eugene, 1994, the Huskies were driving for the winning score when Wheaton, then a freshman, picked off a pass and returned it 97 yards to clinch the victory and help send the Ducks to the Rose Bowl.
Then last year in stormy Seattle, Oregon blew a 24-0 halftime lead and held on for a 24-22 victory.
After the game, Oregon tailback Kevin Parker put a towel around his neck like a noose and made a face at the Huskies’ fans, as if to indicate Washington had choked. A photo of the pose was displayed prominently in a Seattle newspaper the next day.
And some of the Huskies said Oregon players spat on Washington’s trophy case as they left the field.
A little more salt was added to the sore feelings between the teams at the end of last season, when Washington coach Jim Lambright lobbied for his team to get a bid to the Cotton Bowl over Oregon because Seattle is a bigger city with more television potential. The Ducks, who got the Cotton Bowl bid because of a better overall record, took it as a put-down of Eugene.
“All I did was do what I felt I had to do to support our football team and just came out with some facts about our team. That’s all,” Lambright said. “Nothing was meant to downgrade Oregon in any way.”
A capacity crowd of more than 45,000 is expected today, and the Oregon athletic department has taken steps to prevent Washington fans from grabbing too many of the tickets. The ticket ploy backfired somewhat when some Oregon fans didn’t get tickets after paying for them because the school wound up selling more than it had available.
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