Last week Jared noted that Oregon's offense has yet to live up to lofty expectations. The reasons for this are many: youth at the skill positions, a new quarterback, a developing offensive line, turnovers, etc. Of these, the most correctable variable is cutting down on turnovers. While the offense didn't fumble the ball against Washington State (a nice development after 14 in the first four games), Marcus Mariota threw two more interceptions and had arguably his worst game of his career as a quarterback. Limiting turnovers will once again be key as Oregon looks to continue their success against Washington.
Outside of their thrashing at LSU (a very difficult road game, unless you're Towson), Washington's defense has been good, ranking 21st in total defense and 13th in passing defense, with four interceptions in four games. Senior Desmond Trufant is one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, while safety and freshman phenom Shaq Thompson ranks second on the team in tackles for loss and third in total tackles. After beating a very physical Stanford team that was ranked in the top 10 when they visited Seattle, the Huskies will come into Autzen stadium with extra swagger and confidence.
Against Washington, the formula on offense should be the same as it was against Washington State: run the ball and don't turn it over. Although the they did well at limiting Stanford's power running game, Washington got pummeled on the ground by LSU to the tune of 242 yards. Oregon's depth along the offensive line and speed out of the backfield should be able to do the same thing to the Huskies over the course of the game.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian has trumpeted the ability of his defensive backs to play in single coverage, which they will likely do in order to load up the box and stop the run. Mariota will likely have to throw the ball early to keep the defense honest.
Sarkisian has also said that he thinks his team has better depth to hang with Oregon for four quarters than in years past, but I'll believe it when I see it. Washington does have good athletes on defense and coach Wilcox has schemed against the Ducks before, but the fact is that no Pac-10/12 team has been able to stop the Oregon ground game in the Chip Kelly era.
The Ducks could run into trouble if their fumble troubles return or Mariota throws interceptions that turn into points. However, to the extent Oregon fans have felt underwhelmed by the Ducks offense so far (only seventh in the nation in total offense), Washington's offense has been downright bad, ranking 109 out of 124 in total offense nationally and averaging just 23.4 points a game, which includes the 52 they scored at home against Portland State. That's not good when you're trying to keep pace with the Ducks for four quarters on the road. The less time of possession for the Washington offense, the more opportunities for Oregon to wear down the Husky defense. Even if Washington keeps it close through halftime, the likelihood is that the Ducks run away with it -- literally -- in the second half, like they have been doing for 3+ years in the conference.
Of course, this IS a rivalry game, and a Justin Wilcox led Boise State defense DID hold the Ducks to 32 yards rushing in Chip Kelly's inaugural game as a head coach, so I SUPPOSE anything is possible. But, I wouldn't put money on it. This game is at home, on ESPN, against a rival and nationally ranked foe. Oregon's defense has been elite and the offense -- which is scoring 52.4 points a game -- is still waiting for a breakout performance. If the Ducks don't kill themselves with turnovers, expect them to win in a rout. 17+ points. 9 straight years. Book it.