Will history repeat itself with another upset in Saturday’s Ducks-Huskies game?
It’s been a rough start of the season for the Oregon Ducks and fans unaccustomed to 3 game losing streaks and conference championship dreams squashed in early October. And to make matters worse, the undefeated Washington Huskies are riding into Eugene fresh off a stomping of Stanford and a new #5 ranking in the latest polls. On Tuesday it was leaked that Oregon will be throwing their highly-touted freshman quarterback Justin Herbert into action with his first career start against the top-rated defense in the conference.
Las Vegas has taken note of the diving Ducks and rising Huskies – establishing UW as a 8.5 point road favorite. It’s the first time the Huskies have been favored at Autzen since 2005 and on the surface it has all the makings of a blowout by the Dawgs – ending the Ducks unprecedented 12-game winning streak in the series.
But college football is a crazy, funny sport. And you never know what will happen on any given Saturday – especially in a heated rivalry game. And for Ducks fans grasping for hope, here’s a history lesson to remember.
The Huskies were riding high, owning a 5-game winning streak and ranked #6 nationally when the unranked, 4-4 Ducks came to Seattle November 8, 1997. The Huskies had outscored opponents, 278-112 while the Ducks, in the midst of a four game conference losing streak, had scored 229 points but yielded 227. Defense was an issue in Eugene (some things seem to never change).
UW was leading the Pac-10 in scoring defense, giving up just 14.0 points a game, and total defense (295.4 yards a game) and was third in scoring (34.8), second in rushing (177.6), second in total offense (424.5) and second in pass defense.
Oregon was No. 2 in pass offense (270.3 yards), but eighth in scoring defense (28.4), 10th in rushing defense (173.3), seventh in pass defense and 10th in total defense (432.5 yards a game).
Washington was a 21 point home favorite.
The media was asking, do the Ducks even have a chance? Sure they were coming off a bye week and Pac-10 teams were 10-3 following bye weeks up to that point but the game was in vaunted Husky Stadium – then considered the toughest venue in the conference.
The Kitsap Sun noted that Oregon had won in Seattle two years previously and had beaten the Huskies two of the past three years.
“That’s definitely in their favor,” said Husky junior offensive tackle Tony Coats. “They probably won’t be intimidated.”
The Ducks were not intimidated and jumped out to a 24-6 lead over a stunned Husky team and stadium. Washington stormed back in the 2nd half and took a 28-24 lead with just under three minutes left in the game. It looked like the Ducks were done – especially when they faced a 3rd and 20 from UW’s 29 yard line and 2:23 remaining. Akili Smith (who was not the full time starter – he platooned with Jason Maas) threw a perfect back shoulder pass to Patrick Johnson – who made a diving catch in the end zone behind a UW DB who had perfect blanket coverage. Touchdown Ducks.
Oregon stunned the Huskies 31-28, which started a 3-game skid for UW. The Ducks promptly got blown out by ASU the following weekend 52-31 and that defense was considered the 6th weakest all-time. The Ducks gave up 29.17 points per game (350 points in 12 games). So far this year’s edition is giving up 36.2 points per game – so it has a chance to be truly historically bad (again).
Would I bet on the Ducks pulling the upset Saturday against the Huskies? No, I would not – but that’s also why I don’t bet on sports. You just never know what’ll happen.
One way or another, history will be made at Autzen Stadium.