The Washington Huskies head down to Eugene this weekend to take on the No. 1 Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. The Huskies, battered and bruised after two straight blowout losses to top-15 teams, head to Oregon without their star quarterback, Jake Locker. The Ducks come in relatively healthy, fresh off a strong second half at USC to solidify their spot atop all the major rankings.
In an effort to preserve his health, and almost a white flag moment, head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Husky medical staff decided it would be best to give Locker the week off to let him heal his fractured rib. In his place, redshirt freshman Keith Price gets his first start. Price faces the tough task of playing at the always loud Autzen Stadium against a Ducks team that shows no sign of slowing down. The Seattle Times' Bud Withers took a look at the Pac-10 backups making waves this season and the impact they could have on the conference race.
As the Pac-10 football season drifts into a final month, reserve quarterbacks will play a prominent role. They could ramrod teams into the postseason, they could win their coaches those extra coveted bowl practices, they could salvage seasons.
How bad is it for the Huskies right now? Head coach Steve Sarkisian was running the scout team yesterday, according to The Seattle Times' Bob Condotta, after freshman Nick Montana took reps with the first- and second-team offense.The Huskies are thin at quarterback and Sarkisian still has some skill left over from his glory days.
Sarkisian, a record-setting QB at BYU in 1995 and 1996, also may have wanted to make sure that the UW defense gets as good a look as it can at the Oregon offense, as preparing for the pace of what the Ducks do is among the biggest challenges of this week for the Huskies.
It was a rapid-fire practice for the Huskies as they attempted to replicate that quick style, and they were off the field at 5:43 p.m, 20 minutes or so earlier than normal.
Sarkisian is trying to avoid burning Montana's redshirt with Locker out, employing Cody Bruns and Jesse Callier as his emergency quarterbacks. If the game is out of hand, and that seems likely at this point, look for Bruns or Callier to step-in if the worst case scenario -- and injury to Price -- becomes a reality.
The Washington-Oregon game is also a fierce rivalry embraced by the fanbase. A decade ago, it was Washington owning the rivalry, but the Ducks have taken over in recent years, asserting themselves as the class of the Pac-10. Oregon Register-Guard columnist George Schroeder looked at the rivalry and the recent success of the Ducks, gaining some perspective from former head coach Rich Brooks.
"The Huskies were the haves, and we were the have-nots," Brooks says. "You look at what Don James had going there during most of my years - but it's clear that Oregon is the kingpin of the Northwest now, if not the kingpin of the Pac-10."
Read the whole story here, it's worth your time. Brooks laid the foundation for the success of the Ducks during his tenure but could never get over the hump against the Don James era Huskies. Today, he's awestruck by the success of Oregon and how far they've come.
The Ducks are getting healthy this week and Kenjon Barner, after suffering a scary injury against the Washington State Cougars, may be ready to return to action. Barner had been sidelined with a concussion, but was back at practice this week, running with the first- and second-team offense, according to The Register-Guard's Rob Moseley.
When cornerback Anthony Gildon sat out Saturday's win at USC, he became the first eligible opening-game starter to miss consecutive games because of injury. Gildon was moving around well on his injured ankle by Monday, and the bigger news was that backup running back and primary returner Kenjon Barner was able to do position drills and special teams work as he continues to return from a concussion.
Barner provides a lift in the return game and another explosive runner in the Oregon backfield. When teamed with LaMichael James, Oregon has one of the best backfield tandems in the nation. James has found himself rising in the Heisman rankings, now sitting at No. 2 behind Auburn's Cam Newton.
LaMichael James of Oregon has vaulted into second place after running for 239 yards and three scores as the No. 1 Ducks got past Southern Cal 53-32. James received 38 points to pass Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore.
With the point-spread currently at 35 for the Ducks, this game doesn't appear to be close on paper. Will the high-octane Ducks run over the Huskies or can Price lead the Dawgs to an improbable upset. We'll find out this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on ABC.