Once again a major storyline for the Ducks will be the coaching upheaval at Washington. Unlike the other coaching changes, though, this change was a complete upheaval of the defensive coaching staff after an embarrassing defensive display in the Alamo Bowl against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and the Baylor Bears.
Coaching change. After a season in which the defense seemed to regress with each week culminating with the embarrassing performance in the Alamo Bowl, Steve Sarkisian started from scratch and brought in an entire new defensive staff. Duck fans have lamented at the fact that two of those new assistants happen to be former Ducks. Nonetheless, both Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon will experience Autzen in the most hostile environment possible; as coaches for the hated Washington Huskies.
Returning Starters: 7
Key returners: Keith Price, 6-1, 192, QB; Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, 6-6, 250, TE; Kasen Williams, 6-2, 212, WR
Key Losses: Chris Polk, RB; Jermaine Kearse, WR; Devin Agiuilera, WR, Nick Montana, QB
Key Arrivals:Cyler Miles, 6-4, 220, QB, Mullen (Denver) High School
|Austin Sefarian-Jenkins looks for a bigger impact in 2012|
Keith Price is a very good quarterback; when he is healthy. He was hobbled for much of the season last year, but still managed to throw for 3063 yards on 242-362; a very good completion rate of 66.9 percent. Price threw for 33 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. His top two receivers, however, have moved on as graduates and his primary running back left school a year early declaring for the draft. What may possibly be the most important loss is the only experienced back-up QB for the Huskies, Nick Montana, who decided to transfer. If he can develop quickly enough Cyler Miles may be counted on to back-up the oft injured Price.
Chris Polk was the heart and soul of the Washington running game accounting for just over 74% of the team rushing yards with his 293 carries for 1488 yards. His 12 touchdowns were nearly 86% of the rushing touchdowns scored by running backs for the Huskies in 2011.
Early Offense Prediction: With a year to grow more comfortable together, Price is likely to look for Sefarian-Jenkins early and often against the Ducks. As all Sarkisian led offenses do, the Huskies will look to establish the run and use play action passing to get the ball to Sefarian-Jenkins and his wide receivers. The Huskies had difficulty with the Ducks pass rush in 2011 and they will make some adjustments. The maturation of the offensive line should help some, and Price's health will be a key factor. Nonetheless, the loss of Kearse and Aguilar will be felt against the Ducks as their replacements are not quite the same calibre receivers. The bigger loss will be Polk. The running game will not be as efficient allowing the Duck defense to generate more pressure as the game moves into the second half. Expect the Huskies to move in spurts with Price and Sefarian-Jenkins taking advantage of mismatches. But do not expect the Huskies to score more than 24 points.
Returning Starters: 7
Key returners: Sean Parker, 5-10, 210, Junior, Safety; Josh Shirley, 6-2, 210, Sophomore, LB; Princeton Fuimaono, 6-1, 215, Junior, LB
Key Losses: Alameda Ta'amu, DT; Everette Thompson, DT; Cort Dennison, LB
Key Arrivals: Shaq Thompson, Safety, 6-2, 210, Grant (Sacramento) High School
The Huskies bring back a lot of starters, but lose their leading tackler and the heart of their defensive line losing both starters at defensive tackle.
What the Huskies return, though, is a good corps of players who racked up big numbers last season. Parker was second on the team in total tackles with 91 as well as leading the team in interceptions with 4 on the season. From his linebacker spot, Shirley led the team in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (8.5) in 2011. Fuimaono was third on the team in total tackles (64) and second in tackles for loss with 8.5 to go along with 3 sacks last season.
The addition of Thompson should be instant and impactful for the Huskies. Thompson has the ability to be a super star at multiple positions and will likely get a chance to play offense as well as defense. However, defense is where he will likely make the biggest impact for the Huskies. The Washington defense played Oregon well in Seattle in 2011, but still had a difficult time stopping the run when they needed to against the Ducks. Thompson should help in that regard as well as helping with pass defense.
Early Defense Prediction: Though the Husky defgense played better than some expected against the Ducks, they still struggled to contain LaMichel James and Kenjon Barner down the stretch. While the Huskies got a glimpse of De'Anthony Thomas' speed and potential on special teams, they saw very little of him on offense as he carried just once for a 9 yard touchdown and had no receptions in Seattle. Expect that to change and expect the speed and tempo of the Duck offense along with the home town crowd and a crazy environment to make the difference for the Ducks. Bryan Bennett should be very comfortable as the starter by this point and should be able to take advantage of some weak spots in the Husky defense. The battle will be intense early and likely be close throughout much of the game with the Ducks pulling away late for a semi-comfortable victory.
OREGON WILL WIN IF: If the Ducks defense plays the kind of smothering rush defense that they did against the Huskies in 2011, it could be a long day for the Huskies in Eugene. The offense should be able to score against a Husky defense that will be improved, but not enough to stop the Ducks for an entire game at Autzen.
OREGON WILL LOSE IF: If the Duck defense lets Price throw without pressure and he has the time to find Sefarian-Jenkins over the middle and then hit Kasen Williams deep, the Ducks will struggle to contain the Husky offense. Coach Alliotti needs to make Washington one dimensional so that the defensive line can begin to pressure Price again. If the Huskies are rolling on offense, expect new defensive coordinator Wilcox to get aggressive. If that aggression leads to a couple of turnovers, the Ducks could be in trouble.
PREDICTED OUTCOME: With what is sure to be a homecoming crowd and intense emotions in the stands, the Ducks should be able to contain the running game of the Huskies. Without a running threat, the defensive line will get pressure to Price and disrupt the timing between he and Sefarian-Jenkins. The raw intensity of this game may keep it close through 3 quarters, but the Ducks should pull away and win in the fourth quarter.