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Sports >  UW football

Things to watch: Washington must convert third downs for chance to upset Oregon

Nov. 11, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 11, 2022 at 6:45 p.m.

By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

No. 24 Washington (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) at No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12)

4 p.m. Saturday, Eugene.

TV: Fox 28

Latest line: Ducks by 12.5

UW key players

QB Michael Penix Jr.: 66.5% completions, 3,232 pass yards, 23 pass TD, 5 INT, 2 rush TD

WR Rome Odunze: 57 catches, 858 receiving yards, 15.1 yards per reception, 6 TD

LB Cam Bright: 51 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception

Edge Bralen Trice: 26 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks

UO key players

QB Bo Nix: 73.3% completions, 2,495 passing yards, 22 pass TD, 5 INT, 457 rush yards, 13 rush TD

RB Buck Irving: 688 rushing yards, 6.9 yards per carry, 2 rush TD, 206 receiving yards, 3 receiving TD

DB Christian Gonzalez: 34 tackles, 7 pass breakups, 3 INT, 1 blocked kick, 1 TFL

OLB DJ Johnson: 25 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 fumble recovery

Stuffing the run

Oh, so you thought it was a challenge to slow down Oregon State’s rushing attack? That’s just the beginning. On Saturday, Washington will be tasked with corralling an Oregon offense ranked fourth in the nation in rushing touchdowns (27), fifth in yards per carry (5.81) and 11th in rushing yards per game (231.22). Three Ducks tout at least 450 rushing yards – running backs Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington and quarterback Bo Nix. Considering UW’s established struggles containing dual threat passers, Nix will present a formidable threat. The senior Auburn transfer has contributed 457 rushing yards, 6.6 yards per carry and a whopping 13 rushing scores (most in the Pac-12 and fifth most in the country). Against Oregon State, UW surrendered 6.3 yards per carry in the first quarter … and 3.3 in the rest of the game. The Huskies can’t afford another slow start.

Third-down effectiveness

Despite being consistently stuck in third-and-long situations, UW went 11 for 18 on third down against Oregon State – thus continuing a season-long trend. The Huskies have converted 54.62% of their third down tries through nine games, ranking second in the nation behind only Minnesota. There could be an advantageous matchup in that department as Oregon sits 126th out of 131 teams nationally in third-down defense (48% conversions). Of course, UW’s defense hasn’t fared much better – surrendering 47.11% conversions (124th). But after allowing opponents to convert 70.4% of their third downs in road losses at UCLA and Arizona State, that number has improved to 38.9% (14 for 36) in the three games since. This game may ultimately come down to who can get it done on third down.

Rising to the occasion

We all know the numbers. UW has lost 15 of its past 17 games at Oregon, with the lone outliers being back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017. We also know what this game means to Husky football fans. So how will head coach Kalen DeBoer fare in the first legitimate rivalry game in his tenure at UW? (The same could be asked about first-year Oregon coach Dan Lanning.) DeBoer has made a positive first impression in Seattle, flipping a 4-8 record into bowl eligibility and a 7-2 start. The Huskies have one of the most exciting offenses in the country and a 6-0 record inside Husky Stadium. But the games that matter most to UW fans – matchups against Oregon and Washington State – are both on the road. The Huskies made a modest statement with wins against Oregon State and Michigan State. But an upset of 8-1 Oregon inside Autzen Stadium would be perhaps the biggest win of his coaching career.

Vorel’s prediction

UW and Oregon’s success has been somewhat similar, built on prolific offenses outweighing flawed defenses. UW’s offensive success should continue at Oregon. The Ducks, after all, rank 94th nationally in sacks (15), 117th in passing defense (276.6 yards allowed per game) and 126th in third down defense (48%). Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and his parade of receivers will be familiarly efficient inside Autzen Stadium – but it won’t be enough. Not against one of the nation’s premier offenses and rushing attacks. Not against a dual threat quarterback with a skill set that has consistently stymied the Huskies. Not against a team that inarguably has the Huskies’ number. An argument could be made – if the Huskies score enough, force a rare turnover and somehow slow the run – that Washington could walk away with an upset. But we’ll have to see it to believe it. Check back on Saturday night.

Final score: Ducks 41, Huskies 30

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