Huskies have the Ducks in their sights

SEATTLE — Donald Butler has been around long enough to appreciate how much the Washington Huskies and Oregon Ducks hate each other.

The senior linebacker is also mature enough to know when not to further fuel the fire.

“There’s a little extra in there, obviously,” he said this week. “But I’m not going to say anything more.”

The Huskies realize that talk is cheap in this rivalry. Until UW actually proves something on the field, the rivalry will continue to look like Oregon’s fists to the Huskies’ jaw.

Since 2004, Oregon has won every installment of the annual game by an average of 24.8 points. Butler and his fellow seniors have never been within 20 points of the Ducks, and Oregon has averaged 540 yards of offense in the three games leading up to today’s matchup.

Rivalry? This one has been more like a massacre.

What the UW-Oregon rivalry may lack in competitive balance, it makes up for in animosity.

“We hate them, and they don’t like us,” Huskies running back Chris Polk said this week.

Added freshman teammate James Johnson, who is just learning about the rivalry: “Obviously, everybody hates Oregon.”

Johnson is among the current Huskies who aren’t too concerned about the recent past. He’s never faced the Ducks, so last season’s 44-10 loss means nothing to him.

“If they’ve won five in row before I got here, that doesn’t matter to me,” Johnson said this week. “We’re playing them Saturday, and that’s all that matters to me. If we don’t win, nothing else matters. We’ve got to win this game.”

UW head coach Steve Sarkisian also is coming into today’s game with a clean slate, having never been a part of the rivalry prior to this season. The former USC assistant knows Oregon well, and he obviously knows UW well, but he’s still learning about the interstate rivalry.

“I know it’s one that is emotional — not just with the players involved, but with the fans involved,” he said this week. “A lot of history in the game.”

Historically, the rivalry has been one-sided in the Huskies’ favor. Washington dominated the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, but is just 2-6 against Oregon since the turn of the century.

The lack of success actually has seemed to heat up the rivalry for UW fans, who are thirsty for the school’s first win against Oregon since 2003. But they won’t be the only ones charging up Husky Stadium today. The Ducks (5-1 overall, 3-0 atop the Pacific-10 Conference) annually bring several thousand of their own fans to Seattle for the rivalry.

“The Oregon fans are real crazy,” junior linebacker Mason Foster said. “I remember coming in my freshman year, it was something I’d never seen before, like out of a movie. They were going crazy, yelling, calling your mom names. It just drives me. It’s going to be a great game.”

For UW, it’s also a highly important game. The Huskies (3-4, 2-2) are seeing their chances of going to a bowl game, and maybe even winning a Pac-10 title, slip away with each defeat. A loss today would almost certainly knock UW out of the conference race, while pulling the Ducks back to the rest of the pack. It also would leave the Huskies needing three wins in their final four games just to become eligible for a bowl game.

“We win this game, we are one game out of first place,” Sarkisian said. “I think we’re in the thick of it just like the rest of the conference is, in reality. You don’t know what is going to happen week in and week out in this conference, you just don’t know.

“The biggest thing for us is you have to hold serve at home. If you want to do well in this conference you’ve got to win your home football games and then find a way to steal some on the road.”

The way this rivalry has gone lately, the Huskies might have to steal one at home this afternoon.

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