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Controlling the Husky Offense

As Oregon prepares to take on the Huskies this weekend in Seattle, one of the biggest questions is how the Ducks will fare against Jake Locker, the most dangerous QB in the Pac-10.

I'm still unprepared to call him the best, simply because while his stats are improved, Locker's passer rating is merely average in the Pac-10 and nationally. In fact, despite two woeful starts by Jeremiah Masoli, he is essentially tied with Locker in pass rating at 6th in the conference. While there are arguments to be made for throwing for a lot of yards, I put more value on the efficient distribution of the football.

That said, Jake Locker's abilities cannot be denied. His progression this season has been the reason for the Husky resurgence. I had doubted Locker before the season, and I must say, he proved me wrong from the get-go. His accuracy is much improved, most importantly in the intermediate passing game, and especially over the middle. He still lacks top-level consistency down the field (then again, what QB has such consistency) and on outside routes, but he can still hit those passes regularly. 

Jake Locker is a dangerous player. However, his effectiveness can be limited. Here is how I expect Oregon to do that.

First, the Ducks will need to stop Chris Polk. This may sound like an obvious statement, but stopping Polk takes on added importance as Polk is the only other consistent offensive threat on the Huskies. Polk has had two poor games in a row (outside of a very good TD run against ASU), and the pressure was on Locker.

I think the Duck defense is set up very well to stop Polk, who like most backs not named Jacquizz or LaMichael, has serious problems with quick backfield penetration. If Oregon can break through the line early, Polk will have a tough time getting his game going. However, Polk has been very good when he's got a bit of space and a head of steam, and has proven very difficult to bring down.

Next, the Ducks must collapse the pocket. Again, this seems obvious, but in watching Locker play, he has done an excellent job on his initial reads or when he's had a bit of time. Even if Locker faced sporadic pressure, he has the speed to avoid a single rusher (though we'll see how he deals with Tukuafu or Rowe). Yet, when faced with a collapsing pocket with no hope of escape, Locker has showed very poor decision making. His passes have been inaccurate, and are often based on poor decisions anyway.

To achieve both of these goals, I expect the Oregon front 7 to mix up their schemes and coverage throughout the game. One of the greatest advantage that the versatile Oregon defense has is that it can vary its attack from play to play with ease. They can drop 7 or 8 into coverage or blitz 7 with the same personal and formation.

I don't doubt that Locker will make plays, and a lot of them. He will complete a good number of passes. He will get running yards on a number of designed runs and some scrambles. But, this Duck defense has the ability to force Locker into poor decisions.

One last key for the Oregon defense is field position. The Husky offense is dangerous, but also inconsistent. In some ways, they remind me of Cal. If the Ducks can control field position, and force them to drive the length of the field for their scores, the Huskies will have a hard time putting many points on the board.

It's another week, and another test for the Oregon defense. Though based on the dominance we've seen over the past 4 games, I expect them to keep the Huskies frustrated all day long.