As the Ducks head to Washington for their third conference match-up of the 2013 season, it almost seems as if we are being taken back in time; by two years.
In 2011, a night game at Husky Stadium was at a fever pitch. Starting quarterback Keith Price was having a record setting season for the Huskies and there was renewed optimism about the long term prospects for the Huskies. Oregon would go into Husky Stadium and play extremely well on defense quieting some critics en route to a 34-17 victory. The 17 point margin is the closest in the last nine seasons between the two schools.
Fast forward and the Ducks head to renovated Husky Stadium with a rejuvenated Keith Price looking back to his 2011 form. The 2012 season was difficult for Price and the Huskies. Following a miserable defensive performance against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, the Huskies revamped their coaching staff bringing former Oregon Duck Justin Wilcox back to the Pac-12 as their defensive coordinator. Injuries and failing confidence in the offensive line and play calling plagued Price and the Huskies stumbled home to a 7-6 record despite beating eventual conference champion Stanford 17-13 earlier in the year.
This year the Huskies look more confident and faster on defense.
De'Anthony Thomas' possible absence will be the key story line for the Duck heading into Seattle. The trick is that no one knows whether Thomas will be able to play. On Monday he was spotted leaving practice with no walking boot and no limp. Tuesday? Running backs coach Gary Campbell said he was unsure if Thomas would be ready but that he was “at practice” earlier in the day. Not much definition there.
Then, of course, there is the other “story of the week.” It has been hashed, rehashed and hashed over some more so there is no reason to continue analyzing the situation. Oregon, however, now has Johnny Mundt and Pharoah Brown listed as co-starters on the depth chart released late Tuesday afternoon.
The Mundt story is well known, but Brown may be the better of the two at the moment. Brown looked very solid as a true freshman and was having a spectacular fall camp prior to the foot injury that kept him out of the first four games. Last week, though, he made a very nice catch over the middle. He is the better blocker of the two. It seems clear that Tom Osborne feels comfortable with either or both of them on the field at the same time. Come Saturday, the Ducks may just need every weapon they can get their hands on and these two fit that bill.
Look for the Ducks to get the tight ends involved a little bit more but not always with the traditional “seam” passes. Expect some tight end screens; expect one of the players to line up split some from the line; maybe even with one of them motioning out of the backfield to an “h-back” position. With Lyerla gone, there will need to be some different situational changes to how the new co-starters are used by the offense.
Will De'Anthony Thomas play? Right now, I am not sure anyone knows the answer to that question. And the guessing game has to be happening in Seattle as well. You can be sure, though, that the Huskies will be preparing for his presence on the field Saturday.
Looking at the depth chart offers very little insight. It is released on Tuesday. Last week Lyerla was listed as the starter at tight end and never made the trip. Thomas was also listed as the starter but was clearly never going to play against the Buffaloes.
That begs the question, then, if this week's depth chart lists the starter at running back as Thomas or Marshall, what does that say about his status? Likely nothing. Duck fans will probably not know until Saturday at 1:00 in the afternoon.
Remember the old cartoon Tom and Jerry, this week feels kind of like that cartoon. It's a game of cat and mouse. Or is it Duck and dog?