Daunting task looms for Ducks against No. 5 Huskies
With a quarterback controversy as a backdrop, Oregon is preparing for a daunting Washington team that proved its mettle on a national stage against Stanford.
Could the Ducks' 12-game winning streak against the Huskies be coming to an end?
The rivalry game with the No. 5 Huskies couldn't come at a worse time for Oregon, which is reeling from a three-game losing streak. The Ducks (2-3, 0-2) are coming off a 51-33 loss to Washington State in Pullman.
Amid questions about coach Mark Helfrich's job security and the changes to the defense installed by new coordinator Brady Hoke comes uncertainty about the Ducks' starting quarterback.
Dakota Prukop has started in all five of Oregon's games thus far, throwing for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions.
He completed 14 of 22 passes for 132 yards and one interception against the Cougars. The week before, he threw an interception in the end zone on the final drive of Oregon's 41-38 loss at Autzen Stadium to Colorado.
Freshman Justin Herbert came in for the final series against Washington State, marching the team 85 yards and capping the drive with a 4-yard run for a touchdown.
Herbert has appeared in two games, completing three of five passes for 70 yards. But he turned heads against the Cougars when he led that final drive.
A local prospect out of Sheldon High School in Eugene, Herbert worked his way up the depth chart in fall camp. He beat out Terry Wilson and Travis Jonsen for the backup job.
Helfrich did not name a starter Thursday, his last media availability before the game. But he said the team had ''clarity'' after a good week of practice.
''We're going to put the best guy out there, at that and every other position, to help us win this game,'' he said.
Despite reports that Herbert was starting against the Huskies, offensive coordinator Matt Lubick told reporters a day earlier that no decision had been made. Prukop is listed ahead of Herbert on the depth chart released at the start of the week.
''It's something we evaluate every day,'' Lubick said. ''When we figure it out, you guys will know.''
Washington, meanwhile, is coming off a statement-making 44-6 victory at home over the Cardinal last Friday night to move atop the Pac-12 North standings. The Huskies have not been ranked this high in the AP Top 25 since the end of the 2000 season, when they won the Rose Bowl.
Washington poses problems for whomever the Ducks name as starter. The Huskies had eight sacks last weekend against Stanford. They're ranked No. 15 nationally for total defense, allowing opponents just about 299 yards a game. And they've allowed an average of just 12.8 points a game.
''The biggest problem we've had, to be honest, is simulating their defense,'' Helfrich said. ''To get those guys to play their hearts out on the scout team has been a huge deal.''
Head coach Chris Petersen seemed unconcerned by the apparent disarray among the Ducks.
''I think everybody always overinflates everything, on both ways,'' he said. ''That's what I think. I think that they played some hard-fought games that they had chances to win down at the end and for whatever reason just didn't do it. That can affect momentum one way or another. And I think they played Washington State, who is a hard team to play, really well. In the fourth quarter, it got away a little bit.''
The last time Washington won at Autzen Stadium was in 2002, when the Huskies defeated the No. 23 Ducks 42-14 and then drew the ire of the fans by dancing on the ''O'' at midfield.