Entering Saturday’s showdown with hated-rival Washington, No. 17 Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) is at its best and ready for anyone.
But No. 7 Washington (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) isn’t just anyone. The Huskies are the Pac-12 front runners, one of the few teams legitimately in the running for the college football playoffs.
“Everybody is sick of hearing the talk about Washington,” Oregon wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said. “I want to say we’re Husky hunting, and we’re coming after them — we know they’re a good team, but we’ve got something to prove.”
Their quarterback is the programs all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns while their running back is Washington’s all-time leader in rushing yards.
And that’s not even mentioning their defense, one of the nation’s best. Washington boasts players at each level who should play in the NFL, including five in the secondary. The Huskies give up 13.7 points per game — third best the nation — and 304.5 total yards per game — 12th in the nation.
The defense is led by defensive lineman Greg Gaines, linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven and safety Taylor Rapp.
Gaines is the immovable object up front, a 6-foot-2, 316-pound senior who’s started every game the past three years. He does the grunt work so others can make the plays, eating up space in the middle by occupying a double team stuffing the “A” gaps.
Gaines is one of the reasons the Huskies give up just 129.8 rushing yards per game — third best in the Pac-12.
Burr-Kirven is one of the best linebackers in the country. He’s third in the nation in both total tackles (74) and tackles per game (12.3). Not the biggest linebacker (6-foot, 221-pounds), Burr-Kirven makes up for it with athleticism and instincts. He’s extremely fast sideline-to-sideline, showing the ability to run with receivers and running backs. He also does a great job of shooting the gaps in the offensive line, relying on his quickness to get to the ball carrier before they get to the hole.
Rapp is one of the top safeties in the nation, a Pac-12 first-teamer last year and the conference’s defensive freshman of the year in 2016. Rapp is all over the field when he plays, an athletic safety who can not only play physical in the box, but can run with tight ends and receivers.
On the season, Rapp has 25 tackles and leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks with four each. He also has one interception and three fumble recoveries — tops in the nation.
Most importantly, Rapp is the leader of the secondary. This unit is fast, physical and fearless. They do a great job of eliminating yards after the catch and always bring the hammer when tackling. Washington gives up 174.7 passing yards per game, second in the conference.
Offensively, the Huskies haven’t been clicking as much as they did in the past
Gaskin is currently on pace for the worst season of his career, but he’s still rushed for 554 yards and five scores. A great change-of-pace back with strength and explosiveness, Gaskin is nearly unstoppable once he gets into the secondary. Oregon must have multiple tacklers around him at all times to prevent the short gains from becoming big ones.
For a senior, Browning has done a lot of great things in his career, but his decision-making has been a little lax this year. His five interceptions on the season puts him on pace for the most he’s thrown in his career. However, he has thrown for 1,508 yards and nine scores, numbers that would make it the second-best statistical year of his career.
He shows great command of the offense and when given a clean pocket, will stay back and pick apart defenses. He’s also a threat running the ball, being able to keep plays alive with his feet and pick up yards when necessary.
“He knows where he’s going pre-snap," Oregon safety Ugochukwu Amadi said. "That’s something he’s really good at… not too many quarterbacks are able to do that, especially at this level.
After losing stalwarts John Ross and Dante Pettis the past two years, question arose as to who would step up in the No. 1 spot receiving spot. Aaron Fuller has emerged as the leader.
On the season, he’s caught 35 passes for 574 yards, numbers that more than double the next wide receiver on the roster. Standing 5-foot-11, 186-pounds, Fuller is a combination of speed and strength with great hands.
Altogether, this is the toughest team Oregon will face on the season. The Huskies have all-Pac-12 caliber players everywhere on the field and every level. It’s a good thing Oregon is at its best entering this contest because they’re going to need to be perfect to end the losing streak.
“I would definitely say we need to beat them based upon the past two years,” Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James said. “I just know that them and the Beavs are two teams that we don’t like at all.”