Oregon-Washington rivalry game has larger implications

Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert (10) has nine touchdown passes through the first two games.Photo Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

— By Ryan Kostecka, The Sports Xchange —

It’s no secret that fans from both Oregon and Washington don’t get along. For years — and for whatever reasons — it seems that each team’s fan base would rather beat the other even if it meant losing every other game.

Add in the word’s “revenge” and “championship” and the 111th meeting between Ducks and Huskies promises to be exciting.

“Intensity of rivalries like this is through the roof… it’s off the chart,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “You can talk about it or write about it or explain it, and it still doesn’t capture the true fire and intensity and passion that goes behind something like this.”

No. 17 Oregon and No. 7 Washington will kick off the newest chapter of their rivalry on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET in Eugene, Ore. The game will be broadcast on ABC.

Oregon enters the game in search of a defining win, one that proves the Ducks are part of the upper echelon of teams in the country. After 12 straight wins over Washington from 2004 through 2015, Oregon has lost the last two games against the Huskies.

Hoping to help turn around Oregon’s recent fortunes is quarterback Justin Herbert.

Herbert — a 6-foot-6 junior who is projected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft if he opts to turn pro — will be tested more than ever by a Huskies secondary that features multiple players who should be playing on Sundays.

His ability to stand tall in the pocket, deliver the ball wherever he wants and dictate the entire offense is part of what appeals to scouts.

“He’s got size, arm strength, better touch than people think. He’s athletic for a big man, he can really throw on the run,” one NFC executive told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “And he’s a great kid, has off-the-charts intangibles, wants to be a doctor, he has it all squared away. He wasn’t raised to be a quarterback, but he’s from a football family… He’s only 21, so he could use an extra year. But if he’s a top-5 pick, he has to consider going.”

With Herbert at the helm, the Ducks average 503.6 yards and 45.6 points per game this season, both ranking in the top 15 in the nation. Against other top defenses in Stanford and Cal, the Ducks averaged 36.5 points as Herbert threw for 571 yards and three scores.

Washington has dominated the previous two games in the rivalry, relying on a strong defense to outscore Oregon 108-24 in the process.

This year is no different as the Huskies have a passing defense that’s given up three scores on the season, third best in the nation. The Huskies surrender 13.7 points per game, also third best in the nation.

In 2016, the Huskies snapped their 12- game losing streak to the Ducks when quarterback Jake Browning totaled eight touchdowns, none more memorable than when he pointed at Oregon linebacker Jimmie Swain as he crossed the goal-line.

“It was pretty dumb to do,” Browning said last year when asked of the 2016 incident. “It kind of sucks that it was such a big game, and that’s what everybody talks about, is pointing. I think that was pretty selfish on my part, and I’m not going to let that happen again.”

“The wag” – as it’s been come to be known – still upsets Washington head coach Chris Peterson. So much in fact that he has decided to bar Browning from meeting with any of the media this week ahead of Saturday’s showdown.

This is the first time since 2013 that both teams are ranked when they meet. That has occurred five times previously, and Oregon currently leads 4-1, including the 45-24 win in 2013.

Saturday’s showdown is also expected to provide clarity to the race for the Pac-12 North crown.

The Ducks currently have one Pac-12 loss, suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Stanford. Oregon can’t afford to lose another conference game, but a win by the Ducks puts them in the thick of the title race.

The Huskies are undefeated in Pac-12 play but still have to face No. 19 Colorado, Stanford and 5-1 Washington State in the Apple Cup. The Huskies would still have a shot at the Pac-12 title if they lose to Oregon, but that would seemingly eliminate them from consideration for a College Football Playoff berth.

While this rivalry is viewed as one of the most intense on the West Coast, Peterson is making sure his team views it as just another one on their season-long march to the championship.

“I also think it seems like every week is just a huge game to us, like everyone’s got us circled and all those type of things,” Peterson said. “So that’s why we just concentrate on ourselves… every week is a big week.”

On the other hand, Cristobal is making sure the Ducks know exactly what’s at stake, both in the win-loss column and what the rivalry means to their fans.

“Our players have seen and understand the history of the series… they understand how passionate both fan bases are about this — it’s critically important for both programs involved,” Cristobal said. “We don’t ever try to mask or hide or downplay the factors that go into rivalry games. It’s always going to be like that with the way we prepare and motivate our players.”