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Originally published Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 9:04 PM

Huskies strategize how to stop Oregon's offense

The Huskies' defense must hold against the Ducks' quick-shifting and powerful offense if they hope to win Saturday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Oregon @ UW, 7:30 p.m., ROOT Sports

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The essence of an Oregon football game is deception.

And not just by an offense that relies on sleight-of-hand by its quarterbacks to keep the defense guessing.

It's also in the manner that many Oregon games develop — opponents often hanging with the Ducks for 20, 30, even 40 minutes.

And just when Twitter erupts with lots of chatter about the potential consequences if Oregon loses, the Ducks inevitably go on a big run to turn the game into the expected rout.

Washington, which hosts the Ducks at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium, has found that out each of the last four years, having the illusion of being in the game at halftime before eventually losing big.

While UW has lost each of the past four years against Oregon by at least 21 points and by an average of 29, the Huskies trailed at halftime in two of the games by less than a touchdown, and by no more than 12 points in any of the four.

Oregon, though, has outscored UW 124-40 in the second half the past four years — which coincides with when coach Chip Kelly arrived and installed his spread option no-huddle offense.

"Eventually they wear you down to where you don't do what you are supposed to do," said UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt of an Oregon offense that leads the Pac-12 in yards per game (526.9) and rushing yards (309.2) and is second in points (47.5). "You've been doing what you are supposed to do for three quarters. And all the sudden they do the same play and you are out of your gap, and they break a tackle and they get into the open field, and then they are gone."

Indeed, it's the pace of Oregon's offense that is often credited for eventually catching up to opposing defenses. The no-huddle makes it difficult for opponents to substitute and puts a premium on having quality depth.

Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, though, said it's not quite that simple.

"Their pace is their pace," he said. "But they are not just running generic plays, they are running some pretty difficult plays to defend — triple options and wheel routes and naked bootlegs, things like that. They tax you physically because you are tired, but then they tax you mentally because they do a great job of attacking your defense."

And one tired defender caught off guard can result in a touchdown the other way.

"That comes from fatigue," Sarkisian said, "comes from guys a little tired. When you get fatigued, you aren't quite as sharp mentally on where you need to be, and you are not quite in the right gap and they've got the playmakers in place that when you make a mistake, it is a big one."

The Huskies, though, think they've got better depth this year to handle Oregon's pace.

"We have more safety-type bodies out there and more corners than we've had in the past," Holt said. "Hopefully that will help. In the run game, we've got to be really good and not let them get out on the edge. They get out on the edge against everybody and really hurt everybody, but hopefully that is not the case."

As big a trick, though, is getting that depth into the game as the no-huddle makes it complicated to substitute.

"When they sub, we have to sub," Sarkisian said. "The rule is if they are going to sub somebody that they have to give us at least three seconds as well, so when they sub you have to sub. It's very similar to basketball, it just happens quicker. When they send someone to the scorer's table you have to send your guy to the scorer's table and be on point in your timing with them."

Even that, though, contains a little bit of a game within the game.

"The problem arises when they are on your far hash and that's when it's hard to substitute guys," Holt said. "And (when) they are on their near hash and that's when they do a lot of it. When the ball is close to our sideline it's a lot easier for us to get our substitutions in. They get on the ball fast, but sometimes they don't hike the ball fast and you finally get lined up."

And this time, should the Huskies again find themselves in the game at halftime, they hope they can prove it's more than an illusion.

"(We have to find) a way in the middle of the third quarter to be fresh defensively so we can hang with 'em," Sarkisian said. "Because I think we've played decent defense against them for 2 ½ quarters for two years in a row now, but have run out of gas in the last 20 plays of the game. That's where they've really hurt us."

Notes

• The Huskies closed practice on Thursday, only the second time all year the Huskies have taken that step. The last time came the week before the Hawaii game when UW unveiled white helmets. Sarkisian said Thursday that wasn't the reason this time. "No, no. We don't have any black helmets or throwback uniforms or anything," he said. Instead, he said he simply wanted no distractions for the final significant workout of the week.

• Other than those already out for the year, Sarkisian said the two most questionable players for this week are receiver James Johnson (ankle) and defensive end Talia Crichton (knee).

• Kelly confirmed in an interview with KJR-AM that Darron Thomas will start at quarterback. He also said cornerback and returner Cliff Harris remains suspended.

• The 1991 national title team is having a reunion this weekend and will be honored on Saturday. UW is keeping some of the details of the gameday celebration under wraps, however.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Seven-year blitz
The Huskies have allowed an average of 43.6 points, 268.4 rushing yards, 487.3 total yards and 6.1 yards per play during their seven-game losing streak to the Ducks. Oregon's offensive totals:
Year Score Site Rush Yds Total Yds Yds per play
2010 53-16 Eugene 279 522 5.9
2009 43-19 Seattle 259 416 6.7
2008 44-10 Eugene 256 496 6.9
2007 55-34 Seattle 465 661 7.2
2006 34-14 Eugene 316 454 5.4
2005 45-21 Eugene 146 570 7.0
2004 31-6 Eugene 158 292 3.8

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