Mitchell's biggest test to date will come against Washington's secondary

Tony Brooks-James returns, giving the Ducks three capable running backs


Scouting the run offense: The good news for Oregon is that it gets starter Tony Brooks-James back. Brooks-James got banged up against Stanford and after only seeing time as a returner against Cal two weeks ago, he’s ready to resume his starting role.

But, freshmen CJ Verdell and Travis Dye might not be ready to give Brooks-James his carries back after great performance against the Golden Bears. Verdell — who leads the Ducks with 420 rushing yards — finished with nine carries for 106 yards while Dye added a career-high 115 yards on 20 carries.

An added bonus in Oregon’s running game is quarterback Justin Herbert. He’s shown a penchant for running the ball more, faking handoffs and picking up big yards. He’s mobile enough to get outside the pocket and if defenses don’t respect that, he will continuously move the chains.

Regardless of who is getting the touches in the backfield, they’ll have a tough time running against the Huskies. Washington gives up 129.8 rushing yards per game, third best in the Pac-12.

Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven has been a one-man wrecking crew this season, leading the conference in total tackles (74) and tackles per game (12.3). Burr-Kirven is also third in the nation in forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, showing a nose for the ball.

"These kinds of linebackers, they want to get after you," Oregon guard Shane Lemieux said. "These linebackers run downhill… they are SEC linebackers."

The defensive line is stock full of players who understand their assignments and roles. Simply put, the Huskies get the job done up front as Greg Gaines leads the way in the middle.

This will be a good matchup because both teams excel at this part of the game. Running the ball successfully will be key to Oregon’s success, thus setting up the play-action pass and big plays. If the Huskies can control the trenches and then rely on its pass defense to sit back in coverage, it could be a long game for the Ducks.

Scouting the pass offense: This matchup pits the best of Oregon against the best of Washington.

Herbert and Oregon’s pass offense is dynamic, possessing multiple weapons on the inside and outside and an experienced and physical offensive line. Combined with Herbert’s passing abilities, you have an offense that averages 45.6 yards per game.

Herbert is as good as advertised, boasting a quarterback rating of 180.9 — tops in the Pac-12 and eighth in the country. On the season, he’s thrown for 1,411 yards and 15 touchdowns, completing 64.7-percent of his passes on 10.38 yards per attempt.

Dillon Mitchell has emerged as a legitimate No. 1 receiver and possible all-Pac-12 selection. On the season, he’s caught 27 passes for 442 yards and two scores — but it’s what he’s done since conference play began that what’s been impressive, totaling 21 catches for 344 yards in two games.

But, Oregon will be tested by the best secondary they’ll face all year, a unit so fast and physical that five players could potentially play in the NFL.

“They’re about as talented as anyone we’re going to see, and they’re really well coached," Herbert said. "They’re a group of guys that play tough defense, fly around… and they need every bit of attention that we’ve got."

Washington gives up 174.7 passing yards per game — second in the Pac-12 and 17th in the nation.

Safeties Taylor Rapp and Jojo McIntosh are veteran-savvy players who can do it all on the field. Cornerback Byron Murphy is the youngest of the group but shows explosiveness, ranking second in the conference and 12th in the country with nine passes defended.

“I definitely feel on paper that this will be the best test of the year," Mitchell said. "I’m not going to say much — I definitely feel like there are some areas where I can expose them."