Return of the Uncivil War
Kevin Mitchell (Photo by Otto Greule/Getty Images)
Kevin Mitchell (Photo by Otto Greule/Getty Images)
Columnist
Posted Nov 12, 2002


In a season rife with quizzical folly, now comes the next great question. After pole-axing the demons of a three-game losing streak via last Saturday’s 41-29 Senior Day win over Oregon State, thereby silencing whispers of possible Northwest futility, just how will Washington decide to put this success to use?

Washington (2-4, 5-5) at #23 Oregon (3-3, 7-3)
Saturday, November 17 - 12:35 PM (PDT) – ABC TV
Autzen Stadium – Eugene, OR
Series All-time: Washington leads, 56-33-5
Last Meeting: September 30, 2000 – Oregon 23, Washington 16
Line: Oregon by 9


Granted, it’s a tough task to start a revival with. First off, this week it is Washington playing the role of “other guys” in a senior day setting – and the scene will enact in front of the largest crowd ever to witness a game in the state of Oregon. Secondly, November hasn’t been kind to the guys in purple when it comes to facing their southern rivals – going back to 1995, the Huskies are is 0-3 against the Ducks in the season’s penultimate month. Finally, Oregon has won five out of last seven border skirmishes, and has won eight straight home finales at Autzen Stadium.

On the other hand, the Ducks have lost three of four games, their worst run since they dropped four of five games in 1997. That Oregon squad would pull a huge upset over sixth-ranked Washington in Husky Stadium, and then go on to beat Oregon State in the Civil War and Air Force in the Las Vegas Bowl to salvage a 7-5 season. That’s the exact sort of happy ending Washington is striving for.


Rick Neuheisel
(Getty Images)
“The Northwest championship is one of our seasonal goals,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said, “and it’s still achievable. We have to focus all of our energy now on Oregon. We understand how hostile it will be – they are great fans, they love their Ducks, and we have to go down there and play a great game.”

Neuheisel also will strive to prevent the rattler from becoming the rattle. “We’ll be turning on the noise in the indoor facility and try to find ourselves a comfort zone, for we know their fans will be bringing those thunder-sticks.” Oregon coach Mike Bellotti was candid in his assessment of being out of the PAC-10 race for the first time in three years. ”It's tough to lose on the road like that because of the fans and the people involved,” Bellotti said. “When you're finally out of the Pac-10 race . . . that hurts. We haven't been out of it in a long time, so we have to use that realization as fuel for the fire."


Mike Bellotti
(Getty Images)
“My feeling is, this group is a bunch of winners, and we’re going to rebound. Our goal now is to play the best that we can play against Washington. It’s the last home game for our seniors and certainly, I want them to go out as the winningest group of seniors in school history.”

Both teams have had trouble putting together an entire sixty minutes. Washington’s woes have been in the first quarter - until last week’s 17-point opener against OSU, the Huskies had scored 41 first-quarter points in nine games; while Oregon’s Achilles’ heel has been the third - the Ducks have scored two offensive TDs in their last five third-quarters, and were only able to muster two yards in three third-quarter possessions at Pullman.

But one thing is certain – after a year hiatus, and obligingly kindled by a Keith Lewis “overrated” thrust and a Cody Pickett “who’s he?” parry, the Border War has returned.

And what better way is there to turn around a subpar season than to be laying claim on the border . . .

OREGON OFFENSE
TEAM STATS: 36.2 points (1st PAC-10), 394.0 yards
            (6th, 149.8 rush, 244.2 pass) 

RUSHING:    Onterrio Smith 226-1079-12 TD (4.8), long 57 
            Terrence Whitehead 49-218-2 TD (4.4), long 42
                                       
PASSING:    Jason Fife 165-295-6 (.559), 2396 yards, 21 TD
                         
RECEIVING:  Samie Parker 41-598-6 TD (14.6), long 80
            George Wrightster 33-488-6 TD (14.8), long 50
            Keenan Howry 30-573-4 TD (19.1), long 74


QB Jason Fife
(Getty Images)
The Ducks have held their own in the pass-happy PAC-10 conference, and lead the conference in scoring – mostly from being able to hold on to the ball (a conference-low 11 turnovers) and having the best red-zone percentage in the league (37-for-40, .925 percent). Oregon runs the ball well, too – their ground game ranks second in the league at 150 yards per game.

A downturn was expected when junior Jason Fife (6-4, 224) took the reins from Joey Harrington, but he’s been more than adequate in his first year guiding the Eiders. Fife is fourth in the conference (and 15th in the nation) in passing efficiency, he’s thrown only six interceptions, and has hit seven different receivers for touchdowns. Fife had his toughest day last week when Oregon could only muster one offensive TD in Pullman. But the junior from Lake Elsinore has had a trio of three-touchdown days, and threw for a career-best 336 yards in the loss to USC.


TB Onterrio Smith
(Getty Images)
Junior Onterrio Smith (5-10, 204) ranks second in the conference in rushing, and his health will certainly dictate how Oregon plays it this week. Smith struggled to 64 yards against Washington State while dealing with a sprained toe after setting an all-time Duck record of 285 yards against the Cougars in 2001, but still has seven 100-yard games this season. His 12 TDs are second in the conference; and while not as strong as OSU’s Steven Jackson, Smith is certainly more elusive, and has the innate ability to make something good happen out nothing. True freshman Terrence Whitehead (5-10, 202) got the start for a banged-up Smith against Stanford and made the most out of it, garnering 132 yards. Whitehead also had a 37-yard burst for a score against UCLA, and will be the guy should Smith not be able to go.

Senior Keenan Howry (5-10, 170) set an all-time PAC-10 record by catching a pass in his 45th-straight game last week (USC’s Kareem Kelly has a current streak of 44 going). Howry also supplanted Cristin McLemore as the Duck’s all-time leading receiver with his three catches against the Cougars. He’s been haunting the Huskies ever since his first-quarter TD bomb from A.J. Feeley at Husky Stadium in his freshman season. Junior flyer Samie Parker (5-11, 177) leads the Ducks in receptions and receiving touchdowns. He’s the epitome of the term “deep threat”, as his 42.5 yards per touchdown catch can attest. Senior Jason Willis (6-1, 196) caught his first-career TD pass last week, and junior George Wrightster (6-3, 250) leads all PAC-10 tight ends with six touchdown receptions – one better than Washington’s Kevin Ware.

Like his brother Jed before him, junior center Dan Weaver (6-5, 280) is on his way to finishing the escalator trip from walk-on to all-PAC-10 -- Weaver has graded out to be the top interior lineman in seven out of Oregon’s last nine games. Junior guard Joey Forster (6-4, 292) makes his 25th consecutive start. The Oregon line has allowed 22 sacks – fourth-best in the conference.

GAME OUTLOOK: Fife had a rough outing in Pullman, and no doubt is looking forward to righting his ship with a softer Washington defense. Howry and Parker will be hard to deal with, though the Husky DBs are feeling better about themselves. The health of Onterrio Smith will be crucial – though Smith is probable.

OREGON DEFENSE
TEAM STATS:     23.7 points (6th PAC-10), 381.7 yards
                (T-8th, 95.9 rush, 285.8 pass) 

TACKLES/TFL:    David Moretti 84/4.5
                Kevin Mitchell 83/9.5
                Keith Lewis 60/4.5    

PASSES DEF/INT: Steven Moore 16/4
                Keith Lewis 10/4
                Rasuli Webster 5/2 
                               
SACKS:          Kevin Mitchell 6.0
                Roderkus Wright 4.0
                Igor Olshansky, Haloti Ngata 3.0 each


RT Igor Olshansky
(Getty Images)
Much like Washington, the Oregon defense has been singed by the traveling PAC-10 aerial circus. And also like Washington, Nick Aliotti’s defense is starting to show signs of life the last two weeks. Oregon has intercepted at least one pass in 14 straight games.

The Ducks appear set inside for years with the tandem of true freshman Haloti Ngata (6-4, 333) and sophomore Igor Olshansky (6-6, 304). Both have three sacks each, and both can wreck any running play – something Washington has enough trouble with. Seniors man both ends - Darrell Wright (6-4, 264) had a 17-sack season in junior college, and Seth McEwen (6-5, 266) who has a pair of sacks and has batted down three passes this season. Freshman defensive end Devan Long (6-4, 255) is WSU standout Rien Long’s younger brother.


MLB David Moretti
(Getty Images)
Senior middle-backer David Moretti (6-1, 235) and junior ILB Kevin Mitchell (5-11, 220) are extremely active, ranking 3-4 on PAC-10 tackling chart - Mitchell intercepted a screen and took it 20 yards for a score against Washington State. He has 224 tackles, 13 sacks, and 37 tackles-for-loss in his career – plainly, the all-conference performer has a motor that never quits. Senior Garret Graham (6-5, 230) has 6.5 TFL from his outside slot.

There’s not a lot of size out on the corners. Freshman Aaron Gipson (5-8, 179) was on crutches after the WSU game protecting a foot injury, and is listed as questionable. Freshman Marques Binns (5-11, 160) would probably start if Gipson can’t go. Junior Steven Moore (5-9, 172) has four interceptions and a team-leading 16 pass break-ups, and senior free safety Keith Lewis (6-1, 200) also has four picks. Lewis and senior rover Rasuli Webster (6-0, 210) have combined for 110 tackles on the year.

GAME OUTLOOK: Though they gave up 180 yards to Jermaine Green last week, Oregon stops the run decently, and the Huskies can’t run it. Oregon has a few injury kinks in an already small defensive backfield that gives up 280 aerial yards per game, and the Huskies throw it. You make the call.

OREGON SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Jared Siegel 18-20 FG (long 59), 42-43 XP
               
PUNTING:       Jose Arroyo 58-41.3 (long 61), .180 inside the 20
                
KICK RETURNS:  Allan Amundson 18-22.2 (long 45), 0 TD
               Terrence Whitehead 3-26.0 (long 31), 0 TD
                               
PUNT RETURNS:  Keenan Howry 23-13.6 (long 79), 1 TD


PK Jared Siegel
(Getty Images)
If sophomore place-kicker Jared Siegel isn’t the PAC-10’s all-conference kicker, then they shouldn’t give out the award. Siegel leads the league in scoring, and has only two field-goal misses – the 40-yard miss last week in Pullman ended a school-record made streak of 15 in a row. His only other miss was a blocked 48-yard try in the opener against Mississippi State. Siegel made four against USC – three from beyond 41 yards, and his 59-yarder against UCLA set the school record and tied a PAC-10 record. Senior punter Jose Arroyo averages a solid 41.3 per boot – and over 43 yards per punt in conference play.

Keenan Howry leads the conference in punt return yardage, and his 79-yard score against UCLA is the longest punt return in the conference this season; while Allan Amundson ranks third in the league in kickoff return average (22.2). Haloti Ngata has already blocked three kicks this year. As a team, Oregon ranks second in the PAC-10 in kickoff returns, second in punt returns, and sixth in kickoff return coverage.

GAME OUTLOOK: It’s Oregon by a blind-full here – a Duck strength versus a Husky weakness. Winning the field position wars has enabled Oregon to lead the conference in scoring while ranking only sixth in total offense. Conversely, Washington ranks second in the PAC-10 in total offense – and eighth in scoring.


KIBBLES AND BITS

Both Washington and Oregon State need one more win (OSU has a Division 1-AA victory, hence it only has five “counters”) to become bowl-eligible. California will hear from the NCAA on December 9 with regards to its’ bowl-ban appeal. At 6-4, the Bears would become bowl-eligible should they win their appeal, though history suggests that won’t happen . . . Unless UCLA averages 93,000 fannies in each of its’ last two home games, Washington will again top the PAC-10 conference in attendance. The Huskies averaged 71,435 over seven home contests. The Bruins will be hosting USC and Washington State. UCLA just completed a 5-1 road season -- they’re only 2-2 at the Rose Bowl . . . Husky place-kicker John Anderson is on a pretty fair roll to close out his Washington career. He has made his last three 50-plus yard attempts, all with room to spare, and has nailed 10 out of his last 13 efforts overall . . . For the first time all season, a Husky appears on the PAC-10’s passes-defensed list. Reigning defensive player-of-the-week Derrick Johnson is tied for seventh with Oregon’s Keith Lewis, both having 10 . . . California won their third road game against a ranked team this season when they knocked off Arizona State in Tempe on Saturday night. Yes, the other two were Washington and Michigan State, two teams that didn’t live up to the billing. Still, it’s something that the Bears had never done before . . . Stanford freshman Kyle Matter completed his first 15 passes against USC last Saturday, two short of Rick Neuheisel’s all-time PAC-10 record for consecutive completions. The Cardinal lost by 32, anyway . . . PAC-10 home teams are only 17-13 this season in conference play . . .



Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@ATTBI.COM . . .


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