There’s absolutely no love lost between Oregon and Washington.
The rivalry between the Ducks (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) and Huskies (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) runs so deep that for one seven-day span out of the year, friends and families are divided. For the fans and alumni, the game has a way of changing an entire season — for better or for worse.
“I get the history… I get it as well as anybody, from my background,” Washington head coach Chris Peterson, a former Oregon assistant, said.
“Intensity of rivalries like this is through the roof… it’s off the charts,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal added. “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."
But, for the players and coaches who will be on the sideline, it’s just another game with important stakes in the Pac-12 north.
“That’s why we just concentrate on ourselves,” Peterson said. That’s just our M.O. — and it’s just about us bringing the right energy and preparing correctly.”
No. 17 Oregon and No. 7 Washington continue their rivalry on Saturday in Autzen stadium. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. PT and will be broadcasted on ABC, giving the game a national audience.
“I think it’s no secret that Autzen is going to be a scene on Saturday,” Cristobal said. “Intensity of a rivalry like this is through the roof, off the charts.”
“It will always be a tough environment — going there, there’s a big rivalry between the two of us.” Washington wide receiver Aaron Fuller said. “They’re playing some great football right now… so are we. There’s going to be a lot of fans, a lot of hype around it.”
Most importantly, this is a football game that will feature two of the nation’s premier units — Oregon’s offense and Washington’s defense — going head-to-head.
The Ducks are led by quarterback Justin Herbert.
Herbert — a 6-foot-6 junior who is being considered as the potential top pick in the upcoming NFL draft — will be tested more than ever by a Huskies secondary that features multiple players who should be playing on Sundays.
“He has all the tools, all the traits,” one AFC executive told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer about Herbert. “He’s a bigger [Marcus] Mariota to me. He could use another year in school, another year of maturing. But I could definitely see him going high, just based on talent and traits, if he came out.”
With Herbert at the helm, the Ducks average 503.6 yards and 45.6 points per game, both ranking 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 will counter with 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.
Adding fuel to the fire will be Oregon wanting revenge after the Huskies have dominated the last two games of the series, outscoring the Ducks 108-24, and particularly what happened in 2016.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning threw for six touchdown passes as the Huskies snapped their 12-game losing streak in the series. But, what is remembered most is when Browning rushed for the Washington’s first touchdown, wagging his finger at former Oregon linebacker Jimmie Swain as he crossed the goaline, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.
“It was pretty dumb to do,” Browning said last year. “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.”
Beyond all the hype and hatred that will surround the 111th meeting between the Ducks and Huskies, the road to the Pac-12 championship will become a lot clearer with a win for either team.
For Oregon, a win will help offset the early season defeat to Stanford, while also giving the Huskies their first conference loss. With Stanford’s loss last week, the Ducks would appear to be the team with the inside track to the championship game.
Likewise, a Washington win fast tracks the Huskies to the Pac-12 North crown while keeping their hopes alive at being named to the College Football Playoff. Along with Stanford’s loss, Washington will remain the top team in the conference and the team to beat for the title.
When the two teams meet on Saturday, fireworks can be expected as bragging rights and the inside track to the Pac-12 championship will be had.