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Originally published October 7, 2013 at 9:38 PM | Page modified October 8, 2013 at 8:46 PM

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Huskies join Oregon in fast lane

Washington has played to its skilled athletes’ strength and hopes to finally keep pace with second-ranked Oregon when the teams meet Saturday at Husky Stadium.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Oregon @ UW, 1 p.m., Fox Sports 1

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It’s worked wonders for Oregon for the past six years. And it’s worked well for Washington since its debut six weeks ago.

The up-tempo, no-huddle, no-mercy offense, brought to life in the Pac-12 Conference by then-Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly starting in 2007, has made the Ducks into a perennial national power. And it has helped make this the most promising season in Year 5 of the Steve Sarkisian era for the Huskies.

But to the suggestion that he borrowed a page out of the playbook of UW’s No. 1 nemesis, well, Sarkisian doesn’t take any offense to that.

“I haven’t really thought of it that way,” Sarkisian said Monday, five days before the 16th-ranked Huskies host No. 2 Oregon at Husky Stadium.

“I think we have strengths on our team that are similar to strengths on their team. Obviously, we have some pretty good skilled athletes; they have good skilled athletes. I’d be a fool not to play to those strengths.

“So I don’t resent that (suggestion).

“I guess I’d feel resentment if people thought we looked like a team that wasn’t very good. Then I’d feel bad about it.”

For the Huskies (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12), there’s a lot to like about their offensive transformation, which isn’t unlike the transition the Ducks (5-0, 2-0) went through when Kelly arrived from New Hampshire six years ago. Back then, Kelly helped resurrect senior quarterback Dennis Dixon into a Heisman Trophy contender in a run-first offense complemented by junior running back Jonathan Stewart. By the end of 2010, Oregon was playing for the national championship.

This offseason, Sarkisian and UW offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau opted to overhaul the UW offense around a similar concept — fast, fast and faster — albeit with many of their old prostyle concepts still intact. The results? Among other improvements, senior quarterback Keith Price is rejuvenated and junior running back Bishop Sankey is leading the Pac-12 in rushing after five games.

Yes, the Huskies have been Oregon-ized.

“I watched how difficult it was to defend them,” said Sarkisian, who had a good relationship with Kelly before the UO coach left for the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this year. “They were unique in the way they did it. ... They were run, run, run. Early on with Chip it was a run-first offense and it still continues to be. There was unique challenges to it that opened my eyes to trying to understand what they were doing and how they were doing it.

“I think (Oregon’s success) definitely played a part in it. ... I think it’s been a positive change for us.”

Gone are the days when Washington tries to play keep-away from the Ducks, as many ball-possession-minded foes have tried against Oregon in the past. Saturday, the Huskies will try to keep up.

UW’s offensive numbers are up, in most cases dramatically so. UW is averaging 557.0 yards, fifth-best in the nation and on track to easily the break school record over a full season (471.9 in 1991).

The Huskies are averaging 37.4 points, up from 24.0 last year. They’re also seeing some similar tactics opponents have used on Oregon in the past. Late Saturday night, after UW’s controversial 31-28 loss to No. 5 Stanford, Sarkisian accused Stanford defenders of faking injuries as a way to slow the UW offense.

“We saw what we saw, and I’m going to leave it at that,” Sarkisian said Monday.

Asked if he had brought the issue to the attention of the Pac-12 office, Sarkisian said no. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

Sarkisian said Price will be “fine” after injuring his thumb against Stanford, and the Huskies will need a healthy Price — and need him at his best — to keep pace with an Oregon offense averaging 59.2 points and 630.4 yards.

“They go fast, they execute really well (and) they have premier speed on the perimeter,” Sarkisian said. “They look like a dynamic football team that can hurt you in all three phases.”

The Huskies, faster than ever, finally appear equipped to bring the hurt, too.

NOTES

• According to Sarkisian, Pac-12 officials told UW that it agreed with the replay official who overturned the called catch by UW’s Kevin Smith in the final two minutes against Stanford.

“I disagree, but that’s just my opinion,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t think that that was conclusive, but, again, I’m not an official.”

• ESPN has selected Red Square in front of Suzzallo Library on the main part of the UW campus as the location for its “College GameDay” set. The show airs live from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Saturday.

Highflying offenses
Washington’s new fast-paced offense is similar to Oregon’s up-tempo style. Each team has piled up impressive numbers during the first five games of the season.
Category Oregon Washington
Points per game 59.237.4
Rushing yards 335.8258.8
Passing yards 294.6298.2
Total offense 630.4557.0
Red-zone TDs22 of 3220 of 27

Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or ajude@seattletimes.com. On Twitter: @a_jude.


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