The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The top-ranked Oregon Ducks continue their quest for the national title as they plays host to Pac-10 Conference rival Washington this Saturday.
The Huskies had big expectations heading into this season, so head coach Steve Sarkisian and company are obviously disappointed with the current 3-5 overall record that includes a 2-3 mark versus Pac-10 opposition. Last weekend, the Huskies were completely humiliated in front of their home crowd, falling to Stanford by a 41-0 final.
"I only know one way to handle things when we get put in this type of situation and that's to work hard and to find a way to find a way and that's what we will do," said a frustrated but resolute Sarkisian after the beating.
Not only has Oregon been the top-ranked team in the nation for three weeks, but the squad now sits atop the BCS standings for the first time in school history. Obviously, last weekend's 53-32 triumph over USC was good enough for the Ducks to leapfrog Auburn for top billing in the race for a national title game berth. Coach Chip Kelly's squad is now 8-0 overall, including 5-0 in conference, and has won all of its games by double figures, including seven victories by 20 or more points.
"We have a tendency to wear people down," said Kelly after the USC contest. "I'm not into statements. I'm just into winning games."
Washington owns a 58-39-5 series advantage over Oregon, but the Ducks have won the last six meetings.
As if Washington needs any bad news at this point, star quarterback Jake Locker will be unavailable for this weekend's game because of a broken rib. While Locker hasn't been quite as good as expected this season, he has still thrown for 1,678 yards with 14 touchdowns against six interceptions and rushed for three additional scores. In his absence, Keith Price will lead the offense, and the redshirt freshman has attempted only nine passes this season. Expect Price to look the way of Jermaine Kearse quite often, as the receiver has made 45 catches for 723 yards and 10 touchdowns to date. Chris Polk, who has rushed for a team-high 653 yards and four scores, will also need to pick up some slack in Locker's absence.
Sarkisian admitted that his team hit rock bottom against Stanford, as the Huskies managed an embarrassing total of 107 yards, including 19 rushing yards on 25 attempts. Locker was intercepted twice before exiting the contest, and Washington held the ball for less than 21 minutes. The club finished with a mere seven first downs and was 2-of-11 on third-down conversion opportunities.
While Washington is scoring a modest 21.8 ppg and gaining 358.6 total ypg, the team is allowing 34.1 ppg to foes and surrendering 429.8 total ypg. The Huskies have yielded 34 touchdowns to opposing offenses, including 24 rushing scores, and they are being victimized for 212.1 rushing ypg at a clip of 5.2 yards per carry. With just 15 sacks and 10 takeaways, there have been a glaring lack of impact plays made by the Huskies.
The Washington defense was torn apart by Stanford, especially in the first half when the Cardinal scored four touchdowns. The Huskies were victimized for 278 rushing yards and four rushing scores in the clash.
"We just have to keep our confidence," said senior linebacker Victor Aiyewa. "We have a great team here. We believe in our coaches, we believe in ourselves, and we just really need to bounce back."
Oregon is the nation's most explosive offensive team, racking up 54.9 ppg to go along with 572.9 total ypg. Everyone expected tailback LaMichael James to put up Heisman-type numbers this season, and he has certainly lived up to the billing, rushing for 1,210 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing one of the team's eight games. What wasn't expected, however, was the tremendous play of quarterback Darron Thomas. The signal caller has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,827 yards and 21 touchdowns against six interceptions. Thomas is also the team's second-leading rusher with 311 yards and two scores. As for star wideout Jeff Maehl, he has made 47 grabs for 675 yards and nine touchdowns.
Maehl was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week after hauling in eight balls for 145 yards and three touchdowns against USC, including a one-handed touchdown catch that will be considered one of the year's top plays. James dominated the contest to the tune of 239 rushing yards and three scores on 36 attempts, and Thomas threw for 288 yards and four scores.
Opponents are posting just 17.9 ppg and 337.2 total ypg against Oregon, which has quietly played solid defense. The team has been tough against the run, allowing only 3.3 yards per carry. As for the pass defense, the Ducks have intercepted 15 balls while permitting only seven touchdowns through the air. Foes have only been able to make good on 33 percent of their third down conversion attempts and 18 percent of their fourth-down attempts against Oregon, which does a great job of getting off the field. Cliff Harris leads the Ducks with five interceptions, while Brandon Bair has recorded 13 TFLs.
While Oregon posted 599 total yards against USC, the defense permitted 377 yards to the Trojans. Four touchdowns were allowed, including three rushing scores, but Oregon came up with three takeaways, key to the victory.