Oct. 5, 2012
|No. 23 Washington at No 2 Oregon
Saturday, Oct. 6 | 7:30 pm | Autzen Stadium
TV: ESPN | Online: Live Stats | Live Chat
Radio: UW IMG Sports Network (Affiliates) | Listen Online
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
EUGENE, Ore. - Desmond Trufant has been a Husky since before Oregon had 73 different uniform-and-helmet combinations.
The senior cornerback and co-captain has made 39 consecutive starts, including in bowl games the last two Decembers. He's seen the program U-turn into a rising force again in the Pac-12. He's beaten USC (twice), Nebraska, Stanford -- plus archrival Washington State, where he older brother played, three consecutive times.
Yet Trufant landed here at Mahlon Sweet Field with his Huskies teammates on Friday night having never beaten Oregon.
And that rubs him as raw as uncooked Duck.
"It obviously does," Trufant said before Saturday's 7:30 p.m. showdown between 23rd-ranked Washington (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) and No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 2-0), the defending conference and Rose Bowl champion on ESPN, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the only real-time Dawgs game chat on the web.
"They are a great team, been great for a while," Trufant said. "This is my fourth time playing them. And it's a great opportunity."
He is not the only Husky to yet sink the Ducks. Beyond fellow seniors Drew Schaefer, Jonathan Amosa, Cody Bruns, Talia Crichton, Nate Fellner, Justin Glenn, Anthony Gobern, James Johnson, Adam Long, Cole Sager, Semisi Tokolahi, you have to go back nine years to find UW's last win over Oregon.
Then again, Washington didn't have then what it does now: Justin Wilcox.
The former Ducks' defensive back and Autzen Stadium ball boy grew up on a farm in Junction City, Ore., 17 miles north of Oregon's home field. Now he is UW's first-year defensive coordinator. Twice in the last four years he has drawn the schemes that have throttled the Ducks' supersonic offense.
In 2008 while the coordinator at Boise State, Wilcox's unranked Broncos forced four Oregon turnovers and upset the 17th-ranked Ducks. In 2009, Wilcox's defense held LaMichael James and Oregon to just eight points while winning in Boise.
So he's done it before. Can the native Duck do it again Saturday night? After all, his plan stunned eighth-ranked Stanford last week, holding the Cardinal to 65 yards rushing and 13 points in UW's upset win 11 months after it ran for 446 yards and scored 65 points against the Huskies.
"All you have to do is turn on the tape to see what sort of challenge Oregon presents," Wilcox said. "So I don't think anybody in our building is sitting around saying, `Oh, man, we got this figured out' -- the farthest from it. Oregon's got a great team, extremely fast.
"I thought our guys played extremely hard and tackled as well as we've tackled (last week). But we are going to be in different positions this week where they are going to spread the field more than Stanford did. So it's a different type of challenge."
Asked to assess how big a switch it is going from stopping Stanford to combating Oregon in a span of nine days, Wilcox said: "There's probably not a bigger contrast out there."
Wilcox and his players will be facing speed all over Oregon's offense, especially in a backfield of runners De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner plus redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. Barner is second in the Pac-12 and 10th in the nation with an average of 121 yards rushing per game.
Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian is 1-3 against top-five teams since taking over at UW in 2009. Washington was 1-10 against top-five foes in the eight seasons before he arrived. He said this week Mariota is faster and more apt to take off running for big plays than any of Oregon's recent history of championship quarterbacks.
"It's a totally different scheme than anyone plays, the speed of the players making the plays, the tempo at which they are doing it," Wilcox said. "They do a great job with their play-action game. Their O-line does a great job staying on people when blocking to give their backs a seam. And, again, they do it at an unbelievable tempo."
Among many tasks, the Huskies must excel in two ways defensively to stay in position to win for the first time in seven tries against a top-five team on the road: Tackling and conditioning.
The biggest reason Stanford fell so hard last week at UW was that when a Cardinal ball carrier reached a Husky, he immediately went down. Linebacker Thomas Tutogi and safeties Sean Parker and Justin Glenn were particularly aggressive and effective against the run.
"We tackled really, really well and got some bodies to the ball," Wilcox said. "I thought some guys had outstanding individual efforts.
"But there was plenty to clean up. It wasn't like, `Oh, guys, let's pat each other on the back sitting around here watching film.' It wasn't that, at all.
Sarkisian has had his Huskies running no-huddle offense in practices and games for the last three weeks. That was partly to unleash some of it on Stanford -- and mostly to ramp up the conditioning level of his defense in advance of facing the non-stop Ducks. He's also put assignment-alignment recognition drills at the end of no-huddle portions in practice, to test, as he put it, "mental discipline when you are fatigued."
Oregon is known for blowing open close games during the second half, and the Huskies don't need a reminder. Three years ago in Seattle it was a 15-6 game in the third quarter. In 2010, the Huskies' last visit here, it was an 18-13 game in the third quarter. Last November it was 24-17.
The Ducks romped from there each time to relatively easy victories.
"They don't really show too much in the first half. But in the second half they come out and try to wear their opponent down," said Parker, who is facing UO for the third time. "We've got to be disciplined and not let that happen.
"I feel like they go quicker and they just try to declare what they do and just run at you in the second half, to wear you down for the finish."
Sarkisian has been saying all summer and early fall how much deeper the Huskies are after three full and fruitful recruiting classes. Saturday will be a huge test of that depth.
Oregon often starts its next play within eight seconds of the last one ending. That makes substituting on defense next to impossible, so the 11 who start a Huskies defensive drive will need to dig in.
"Yeah, it's tough because literally the rough is trying to put the ball down and the center is trying to snap it. It's that fast," Wilcox said. "The chains are never even set. You watch, when there's a first down - you guys have seen it - the chains are never even being set. Unless they substitute, that's the time to substitute. If they don't substitute, you are going to have a really hard time doing it because you are going to have guys running on and off."
The notoriously zany, sellout crowd at Autzen Stadium is going to make it the loudest venue the Huskies will play in -- especially after the Duck fans get a full day to, uh, soak in the pregame atmosphere.
Yet UW quarterback Keith Price knows all about what awaits him. He made his first career start at Oregon in November 2010 for injured Jake Locker - and grinned through the roars and Ducks swarming around him.
"I could hardly hear myself think," Price said, smiling again this week. "It's a great atmosphere."
Price and Bishop Sankey, who ran for a career-high 144 yards against Stanford with a game-turning, 61-yard score on fourth and short to start Washington's comeback, will be passing and running behind a Huskies offensive line that will again have four first-year starters.
Expect Oregon to send every blitz it knows at that line. Price will need get the ball out more quickly in Sarkisian's adjusted passing game than he did against Stanford.
The 6-foot-2, 216-pound Kasen Williams, who is coming off a career-game last week including the go-ahead touchdown late, has a two-to-five-inch height advantage than any defensive back on Oregon's two-deep roster. Sarkisian and Price will be looking to get Williams in favorable matchups all night -- provided the quarterback has time to throw to him.
Sankey getting going in the running game to show down that pass rush would help. So would a larger splash inside in the passing game from 6-6 tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, which would help free Williams outside. Seferian-Jenkins had just two catches against Stanford, though he said this week: "If we win every single game here on out with me catching two balls, I'm happy. Personal stats do not matter to me."
Personal missions, like the seniors' when it comes to Oregon, sure do.
"We've just got to be disciplined in what we do," Trufant said, "and hopefully we'll see results on Saturday."