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October 5, 2012

Tall task awaits Dawgs in Autzen

Washington still has a big lead in the all-time series with the Ducks but it's been lopsided in Oregon's favor of late. Can the Dawgs ride their momentum to a big upset win in Eugene?

The pundits and the odds makers don't seem to think so. But they didn't think Washington would beat Stanford either. Truth is, hardly anyone outside of that Washington locker room did.

The challenge against Oregon will be altogether different. The Ducks hold down the No. 2 spot in the polls. It's a night game in Autzen Stadium, a place Washington hasn't won at since 2002. Washington hasn't beaten the Ducks in the past eight years. That's a longer streak than Oregon has against any other school in the Pac-12 and is clearly a source of embarrassment for the proud program.

Stopping Kenjon Barner, or at least slowing him down, is key. He's averaging 121 yards per game on the ground and Oregon's 303 rushing yards per contest is good enough for sixth nationally.

Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota is completing nearly 69-percent of his passes and has shown flashes, but against Washington State he was off the mark. He completed a high clip of his throws but there weren't many big gainers and he threw two picks. He was much better than that the week before against Arizona.

Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, whose ties to the Oregon program run deep and have been well documented, has the unenviable task of drawing up that game plan. There may be no person that's more up to the task, as Wilcox's Boise State defense in 2008 had a big hand in the Broncos knocking off the Ducks in an Autzen thriller.

On the other side of the ball the Ducks' defense has been outstanding in the red zone. Washington State and Arizona combined to score just one touchdown from inside the Ducks' 20-yard line. Washington does have more skill position talent than any opponent Oregon has faced so far, so the Ducks will be tested in that regard.

Against Stanford the fear was the Cardinal could just line up and pound it between the tackles against a then-questionable UW run defense. With the Husky defense riding high it will be interesting to see how they fare against a very different running attack Saturday night.

It's worth noting that Oregon hasn't been seriously tested in the second half in any game this season. If the Huskies can find a way to make this a game in the third quarter it could get interesting. In years' past the Huskies hung around but couldn't outlast Oregon, or keep up with them. Will this year be any different?

Prediction: Oregon 41-27


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