SEATTLE — In a top-20 matchup that could go a long way toward deciding the Pac-12 North title, Washington will bring the Pac-12’s No. 1 scoring defense to Eugene on Saturday to square off against the most potent offense in the conference.
The No. 17 Ducks (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) haven’t quite returned to their glory days under Chip Kelly, but they’re not far off. Oregon leads the conference in scoring (45.6 points per game), rushing yards (216.0 yards per) and total offense (503.6), behind a quarterback, Justin Herbert, who leads the conference in efficiency rating (180.9).
“There is not as much of the stuff left from the Chip era. It’s still a really dynamic offense, but they’re doing stuff a little different, using more pistol and that kind of stuff,” UW senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said.
Herbert, he added, “is a super talented guy. They have a good stable of backs, talented receivers and probably one of the best offensive lines in the conference. They’re doing things a little different, but they’re still very explosive.”
Kelly’s new team, UCLA, gave the Huskies fits on Saturday in the Rose Bowl. The No. 7 Huskies (5-1, 3-0) held on for a closer-than-expected 31-24 victory over a winless UCLA team, but not before the UW defense allowed a season high in points (24) and yards (422).
“I don’t know about ‘wake-up call’ or anything like that,” said UW safety Taylor Rapp, who had a first-half interception at UCLA. “It’s just a Pac-12 game. Every game in the Pac-12 is tough. Everyone knows that. UCLA, they’re a powerful, explosive offense, so I give (credit) to them, definitely.”
UCLA converted seven of its 10 third-down plays in the second half against the Huskies, who didn’t register a single sack against the Bruins. Washington has just eight sacks in six games — third-fewest in the conference.
UW co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake reiterated Tuesday that he’s not overly concerned about the Huskies’ third-down issues. (“I am worried about every single down,” he said.) For him, the bottom line is the Huskies are leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense for the fourth consecutive season.
Washington has a streak of 50 games without allowing more than 35 points in a game. By comparison, the second-longest such streak in the Pac-12 belongs to Utah — at 10 games.
“We’re playing really sound football,” Burr-Kirven said. “Obviously we’ve had some third-down struggles, not enough turnovers and not enough sacks, but I think at the end of the day we’re winning games. We’re not giving up points. It’s funny, after the UCLA game, we give up 20-something points and everyone’s frustrated. But then you look around college football and most defenses are giving up 35, 40 points a game; if they give up 20, they’re pretty happy.
“So I think that speaks to what we’ve done here for a long time that giving up 20 points makes us mad. Obviously, we’re frustrated with that game, but you’ve got to realize that we’re playing good defense.”
The Huskies believe they have the Pac-12’s best and loudest home-field advantage at Husky Stadium.
Oregon’s Autzen Stadium is renowned as one of the most hostile venues in the conference, too. And it will be an especially hostile welcome for the hated Huskies on Saturday afternoon.
“That’s a crazy atmosphere, an electric atmosphere,” Rapp said. “That’s somewhere we want to play at. We like to play in that kind of atmosphere. They are a great team and that atmosphere is something special to play in.”
Three weeks ago, after Stanford rallied for an improbable overtime victory over the Ducks in Eugene, video showed fans in the Autzen stands throwing bottles and debris at Stanford players exiting the field.
On Tuesday, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens addressed an email to Ducks fans.
“While Oregon is known for our electric atmosphere, we also emphasize respect and sportsmanship toward our opponents and one another,” he wrote. “We encourage you to be loud and proud. However, we expect fan conduct to reflect the very best of the University of Oregon. Our gameday staff will help to ensure that our incredible fans continue to place a priority on civility.”
The Huskies believe playing against Auburn in Atlanta and against Utah in Salt Lake City has prepared them for a difficult road environment.
“(Autzen is) an awesome college football venue, for sure,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “I think the kids, they like playing in environments like that. Whether it’s going back to Atlanta in a packed place like that or going into Autzen, I think it’s a lot better than a half-full stadium. You can hear better and all those things in those stadiums, but I think if you had your druthers you’d rather go into where it’s all about (football).”