Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

October 08, 2018 at 9:06 pm.

Ducks have 70 reasons to welcome No. 7 Washington

Autzen Stadium always promises a hostile atmosphere for visiting teams. When the No. 7-ranked Washington Huskies visit this Saturday to face the No. 17 Oregon Ducks, the hostility should be cranked up just a bit.

Two years ago, Washington (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12 Conference) snapped a 12-year losing streak to its bitter border rival in its last visit to Autzen and did so with an exclamation point. The Huskies hung 70 points on the Ducks in a 49-point beatdown that marked something of a low-point for Oregon during a trying 4-8 season.

Oregon (4-1, 1-1) is a much different team now. Coach Mark Helfrich was fired after the 2016 season, and Willie Taggart stepped in. Taggart spent just one season with the Ducks before handing the reins to Mario Cristobal. The former Alabama assistant Cristobal has Oregon in a position to contend for the Pac-12 championship — if it can snap its own, new drought in the rivalry series against Washington.

The Ducks feature a quarterback in Justin Herbert expected to go in the first round of next spring’s NFL draft, a veteran offensive line, and a talented defense overseen by coordinator Jim Leavitt. Leavitt’s defense at Colorado two seasons ago transformed from one of the worst in the nation to one of the Pac-12’s best, and he’s replicating his efforts in some ways at Oregon.

A repeat of the 70 points that Washington scored in 2016 isn’t likely — not that Washington coach Chris Petersen even wants that. In a 2017 Seattle Times interview, Petersen said he didn’t “like that score,” and the Huskies were “just trying to run the ball” in the second half.

That likely comes as little consolation to the Oregon faithful, who will welcome Washington into this key Pac-12 North matchup in a particularly inhospitable manner.

“It’ll always be a tough environment,” said wide receiver Aaron Fuller of Oregon. “They’re playing some great football right now, and so are we.”