Top-25 foes collide in Pac-12 tilt

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Updated: 10/09/2013 10:52 am

Seattle, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - For the second straight week the No. 16 Washington Huskies will square off with a top-five squad, as the No. 2 Oregon Ducks come to Seattle for a Pac-12 showdown at Husky Stadium.

There has been zero letup by the Ducks this season. Oregon has been running an absolutely punishing offense out on the field, rolling to a 5-0 record while averaging 59.2 points per game. With their 57-16 rout of Colorado last weekend, the Ducks have scored at least 50 points in a school record five straight games. Oregon also put up 755 yards of total offense against the Buffaloes. That still doesn't seem to be enough for head coach Mark Helfrich.

"We're 5-0, that's our best statistic, and we haven't played remotely to what we can in any phase in any game so that's encouraging," Helfrich said.

That is quite the statement for a Washington team, fresh off an emotional, 31-28, loss to No. 5 Stanford, to deal with. The Huskies have surprised some by their play early in the season as they come into this game at 4-1 overall, while ranked in the top 20 for the sixth straight week after failing to do so in the last nine seasons.

Clearly Washington will be trying to avoid a repeat of the outcome from a year ago between these teams. In that contest in Eugene, Marcus Mariota threw for four touchdowns as the Ducks rolled to a 52-21 victory. Even with the win, which was the ninth straight for Oregon against the Huskies, it may surprise some to know that Washington still leads the all-time series with the Ducks (58-42-5).

It is difficult to take Helfrich's comments about his team seriously. After all the Ducks have been absolutely shredding opposing defenses this season, ranking second nationally in total offense (630.4 ypg) and points scored (59.2 ppg). Obviously, there is not much room for improvement.

The Ducks are known for their heavy running game and even with De'Anthony Thomas out last week with an ankle injury, the Ducks were impressive on the ground yet again. Byron Marshall totaled 122 yards on 23 carries for the nation's third-best rushing attack. Marshall (448 yards, four TDs) has been the feature back this season, but he has gotten plenty of help from Thomas (338 yards, six TDs), who is listed as questionable for Saturday, and Thomas Tyner (204 yards, five TDs).

Equally lethal for both his ability to throw and run is Mariota. The sophomore has shown no signs of a slump after an impressive rookie campaign. Mariota is completing a modest 56.7 percent of his pass attempts, but has totaled 1,358 yards and 14 touchdowns, without a single interception. Then there is the 338 yards and seven scores he has accounted for on the ground, making him an even more dangerous threat.

Mariota has relied primarily on Josh Huff (21 receptions, 445 yards, four TDs) and Bralon Addison (19 receptions, 345 yards, four TDs) when he does decide to throw the ball. Both had five receptions for two scores and over 100 yards against Colorado.

It hasn't just been on offense that the Ducks have been producing at a high level. Oregon is letting up just 11.8 points and 331.2 yards per game to its opponents. Even more impressive has been the Ducks' ability to get teams off the field, as foes have converted on just 23-of-89 third down attempts, while making only 13 trips into the red zone. Only four of those trips have led to touchdowns.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a dangerous cornerback for the Ducks, while Tony Washington (4.0 sacks) is the unit's best pass rusher.

Although perhaps not as prolific as the Ducks, the Huskies can certainly run it up on the offensive side of the ball. Washington may be ranked just seventh in the conference in scoring (37.4 ppg), but the Huskies are still piling up yards with the third best mark in the league (557 ypg).

Quarterback Keith Price's stock continues to rise. The senior has throw for 1,394 yards and 11 touchdown, while completing an impressive 71.2 percent of his pass attempts. On top of that Price has been intercepted just three times. Needless to say Price will be looking to make up for his poor performance against Oregon last year when he threw two interceptions.

Another player for the Huskies who has been slowly rising to prominence at the Pac-12 and national level is Bishop Sankey. The Huskies' running back has totaled 732 yards and seven touchdowns on the campaign and currently ranks fourth in the nation in rushing.

Making the plays on the other end of Price's passes is a productive trio of receivers. Jaydon Mickens (30 receptions, 273 yards, two TDs) has been a reliable possession receiver, leading the team in receptions. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith (21 receptions, 367 yards, two TDs) and Kasen Williams (21 receptions, 344 yards, TD) are threats that can stretch the field. It also bears mentioning that Austin Seferian-Jenkins (14 receptions, 148 yards, two TDs) can produce at a high level from the tight end spot.

Where the Huskies might actually have an edge over the Ducks is on defense. Though Washington is allowing more points per game (14.8) than Oregon, the Huskies lead the Pac-12 in total defense (287.8 ypg). Washington has also allowed teams to get into the red zone just 13 times, while totaling 15 sacks.

Josh Shirley (3.0 sacks) and Hau'oli Kikaha (3.5 sacks) anchor the Huskies pass rush, while linebacker Shaq Thompson (35 tackles) and safety Sean Parker (24 tackles, three INTs) make plays in the open field.

"If we want to remain in the hunt in the Pac-12 North, we need to win Saturday. That's what it's about," said Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian. "We are going to go out and put our best foot forward and see if that is good enough to win."

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