Game of the Week: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 16 Washington

Story posted October 11, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Aaron Carr

Each week ComRadio staff writer Aaron Carr will highlight a matchup in college football that he considers to be the “Game of the Week.” If you’re going to enjoy some college football action then this is the ONE contest that you do not want to miss. Carr’s “Game of the Week” selection for Week 7 of the college football season comes to you live from Seattle, Washington, where the No. 2 team in the land faces its biggest challenge to date.

The Game: No. 2 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 16 Washington Huskies:

Ladies and gentlemen, of the seven previous games we’ve examined together, this is my favorite to date. As a journalist, it’s my job to tell a story to the best of my ability and this Pac-12 conference battle is dripping with storylines. Many of the subplots revolve around the coaching match up of Oregon’s first-year man Mark Helfrich, opposing fifth-year Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.

Both Sarkisian and Helfrich have a lot in common; each is 39 years old, each played quarterback in college (Sarkisian at BYU, Helfrich at Southern Oregon), each was an offensive coordinator before becoming head coaches (Helfrich at the school he now coaches, Sarkisian spent a year as the OC for the USC Trojans) and each has lead their respective teams to success.

I wondered how Oregon would do in year one, post-Chip Kelly, following a four-year run that saw the Ducks win three Pac-12 championships and make four consecutive BCS Bowl appearances. Helfrich’s first year in Eugene, has been business as usual and aside from the physical differences between Kelly and Helfrich (tall and slender vs. short and stocky, hat vs. visor, etc.), you would think the current Philadelphia Eagles coach was still roaming the sidelines for Oregon.

Under Helfrich the Ducks have been flying, at a rate even greater than the offensive numbers the team but up under offensive guru Kelly. Oregon became the first team since 1885 to score 50 plus points in each of its first five games, including dumping 59 points on a Tennessee team that nearly knocked off Georgia last weekend. While the head man holding the clipboard has changed, the offensive stars in Oregon’s backfield haven’t.

Sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota (14-0 TD to INT ratio, seven rushing touchdowns) is still around, as is running back De’Anthony Thomas (eight yards a carry, six rushing touchdowns). And if you were wondering, yes Thomas is still fast. He’s one of the fastest humans I’ve ever seen and is the quickest player in college football with the ball in his hands.

The Los Angeles, native is also a deadly weapon catching passes out of the backfield, and has 14 career touchdown catches. One thing to monitor, Thomas did not suit up the last two weeks against Cal and Colorado due to suffering from an ankle injury. So consider him questionable for Saturday.

The hometown Huskies under Sarkisian have evolved into serious players in the Pac-12. After rolling to a 4-0 record to start the season, including an opening week 38-6 win over then No. 19 Boise State, the Huskies lost to No. 5 Stanford last week by the slimmest of margins, (a whole three points).

The team is incredibly balanced on offense, 23rd in the nation in passing yards per game and 15th in rushing yards per game, while averaging 37 points per contest which is good for 35th best in college football.

Flanked by senior quarterback Keith Price (1394 passing yards, 11 passing TDs) and junior running back Bishop Sankey, (4th in the FBS with 732 rushing yards), the Huskies can run with anyone. They’ve even gotten incredibly defensive this season, allowing 14.8 points per game, good for 11th best in the FBS.

Now that I’ve told you all the good things about Washington, I know you’re waiting for a “but,” and so here it is. The one opponent the Huskies haven’t been able to dispatch in recent memory…you guessed it, Oregon.

The guys in green have beaten Washington nine straight times, with each win coming by at least 17 points. The two programs have competed against one another 105 times in the past and Oregon’s current nine-game win streak is the longest win streak by either team in the head to head series.

Players to Watch:

RB Byron Marshall, Oregon: I mentioned up top that Oregon speedster De’Anthony Thomas hasn’t played the last two weeks because of a bad wheel. If you check the post game box score for Oregon and not the names next to the stats, you’d think Thomas might have actually played. One player’s counting numbers against Cal read like this:  19 carries, 130 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Last week against Colorado, the same player had 23 carries for 122 yards.

That player wasn’t Thomas…it was sophomore Byron Marshall. Even if Thomas does play, expect Marshall to get his carries. One because of Marshall’s three 100-yard games this season, and two, because Oregon finds ways to get Thomas the ball in a number of ways, not solely via a handoff from Mariota.

DE Josh Shirley, Washington: The Fontana, Ca., native is an enigma, a mixed bag, inconsistent and perhaps even a one-hit wonder. Why are we talking about him as player to watch? The answer is a number: three.

In the Huskies 34-24 week two win over Illinois, the 6’3” 232 pounder had three quarterback sacks and seven total tackles. In the other three games he’s appeared in this season, he has three combined tackles and zero sacks. After collecting 6.5 quarterback takedowns in 2012, Shirley is talented enough to be a force in the trenches, and needs to be against a Ducks team has allowed a conference-low four sacks on the year.

By the Numbers:

391 During Oregon’s nine-game win streak versus Washington, the Ducks have outscored the Huskies 391-158.

16 In Sarkisian’s five years in Washington, he has a 7-16 record against ranked opponents.

41 Oregon has scored a Pac-12 best 41 touchdowns in five games. Oregon State and Arizona State are tied for second with 27 touchdowns in five games. UCLA has scored 25 touchdowns in four games.

Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email adc5230@psu.edu.