It hasn’t been like this in over a decade in Eugene.
With the success of Oregon football, the feeling that the Ducks — by even the most devoted fans — are going to lose is very unusual.
That week has arrived.
What makes it more unusual is that it comes against a team Oregon has dominated over the past 12 seasons.
Washington comes into Autzen Stadium on Saturday as the No. 5 team in the nation. Over the past dozen years, the Huskies have had their problems. They’ve had bad defenses, inconsistent quarterback play, staff changes and an overall uncertainty in the program.
All of those factors are part of the Duck program right now in a complete role reversal with its bitter rivals. Other than Oregon State, there isn’t a bigger rival for Oregon than Washington, and the Ducks have taken much pleasure and pride over their 12-game winning streak over the Huskies.
Washington comes into the game as 8.5-point favorites, a spread that nearly everyone feels is a bit generous. The Huskies may be on the verge of ending Stanford’s and Oregon’s reign over the Pac-12 North Division. Washington began taking over with its 44-6 win over the Cardinal last week, and the Huskies will aim to continue their takeover by taking down the Ducks.
Most people who follow these two teams closely feel this is the best chance the Huskies have had to end the current Oregon win streak over the Dawgs. It would be a shocker if Oregon won. The defense is in shambles, and it looks like the Ducks will start a true freshman at quarterback against one of the best defenses in the country.
Starting Justin Herbert will either be Mark Helfrich’s smartest decision in his four-year career, or it will turn into a complete disaster. If Herbert, who is a Eugene native from Sheldon High School, manages to somehow defeat the Huskies, he’ll be the toast of the town and the Justin Herbert Era will have begun.
If Herbert does play well enough to defeat the No. 5 team in the nation, the question has to be asked: Why didn’t Herbert start from Game 1?
Dakota Prukop hasn’t been exactly lighting up opposing defenses, and according to numerous Duck players in fall camp, Herbert has made an impression right away and challenged Prukop for the starting job.
This season has tested Oregon’s coaching staff. Some of the things they’ve told the press has been a bit odd, even by their standards. The Ducks announced Royce Freeman as the starter at tailback against Colorado even though he didn’t play a down that game. Then their best defender in the early going, freshman Troy Dye, didn’t make the trip to Washington State although he practiced all week leading up to the game.
Helfrich insists Dye wasn’t punished and says his best defender on a defense that is horrific was suffering from a concussion no one saw occur. It was just a coincidence that Dye happened to call out some of his teammates that week and then didn’t make the trip to the Palouse.
He’s perfectly fine this week.
Now the Oregon-Washington rivalry comes into play. The usually quiet assistant coach and longtime offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said this week, “the win streak isn’t ending this week or anytime soon.” Practically guaranteeing a win is so out of character for anyone in the Duck coaching staff it’s difficult to figure out what to make of it.
Perhaps it’s the result of a heated rivalry and the frustration of a three-game losing streak.
Husky coach Chris Petersen seems to be doing the right thing in not allowing his players to speak to the media this week. He knows Oregon is down right now and doesn’t want the Ducks to get any extra motivation with one of his players providing bulletin board material. Petersen is an ex-Oregon assistant and knows how deep the feelings go where this rivalry is concerned.
Everything is pointing the Huskies’ way for this game. Washington is preparing for the game in the right way and Oregon seems to be in chaos.
But this is a rivalry, so throw the extra-curricular items out the window. Despite the adversity the Ducks are facing, no one should be shocked if they put it all together for 60 minutes to keep the streak against Washington alive.
It’s all Oregon has, this hold of the Huskies and their fears, the knowledge that Washington succumbs to pressure in this rivalry.
Despite everything said above about how dysfunctional the Ducks are, that psychological terrain might be all Oregon needs.
If the Ducks can defy the odds, a Washington season currently destined for greatness could unravel.
Oregon would like nothing more than to see that scenario unfold.
In order to make it happen, though, the Ducks — 12-game winning streak or not — have to band together and shove out the negativity that’s been coursing through Eugene for the past few weeks.