The odds makers feel that Oregon will beat Washington on Saturday night by two touchdowns. If you look at the two teams on paper that is a pretty fair appraisal. The Ducks are stronger and more experienced than Washington at most positions.
That doesn't mean Washington can't win. What makes the start of any college football season exciting is that you don't know what the young guys will do.
Take USC for example. When Pete Carroll came in the program was way down. In his first season he played a lot of young players and finished 6-6. Washington beat USC his first season and he went head to head with Rick Neuheisel for every top recruit on the West Coast that Winter. He won most of those battles. The rest is history. Carroll's program hasn't lost more than two games in a season since then. The key down at USC has been to go with the youth.
Washington is doing that this year coming off its best recruiting class in over a decade. The big key for this season is for the young guys at the skill positions and defensive line to perform like upperclassmen. They are going to make mistakes but they are also going to make some very good things happen.
Stop the Oregon running game.
Make no mistake about it, the Ducks are going to come out running the ball hard at the middle of the Washington defense. Oregon has three very capable running backs that will all play and keep the position fresh all evening. Oregon wants to get the running game going so the safeties have to creep up to help stop it. Once that happens the Ducks like to go deep for the quick score.
Oregon has a great offensive line. They dominated the Washington defensive line last season. Keep a close eye on Elisara, Kelemete, Kirton, and Ta'amu. If they are getting blown off the ball it won't be a good sign.
Establish the run against Oregon
Washington needs to come out and establish the run early in this one. Locker lines up behind one of the best offensive lines in the conference. His RB's may lack experience but they have the talent to take advantage of the holes that can be created in the middle of the Oregon defense.
Louis Rankin may be gone but I think you will enjoy the styles of Chris Polk and Brandon Johnson more. Both of these guys know how to get yards in the middle. Polk is a legitimate big play threat every time he touches the ball. David Freeman, and Willie Griffin may also be in the mix.
Divide up the carries between Locker, Polk, Johnson and Homer anyway you want, but the Huskies need to go over 250 yards on the ground to beat these guys.
Get off to an Early Lead
You don't want to play catch up on the road against Oregon. If Washington can get off to a good start and take the Ducks out of their running game it is going to be a big plus. An early lead makes the other team do things they would rather not do. If you can put the game on the young shoulders of Justin Roper you can force the Ducks into making some mistakes and beating themselves.
Hold on to the Ball
You need to minimize mistakes to beat a team like Oregon. Fumbles, interceptions, and blown scoring opportunities which plagued the team last year have to go away in 2008.
Washington's young receivers need to get open against one of the nations best secondaries. Once they get open they need to catch the ball. The 5-6 drops per game which murdered Locker's passing statistics last season need to go away.
I think it will be tough for Washington to play mistake free with so many new players in key positions, but a positive turnover ratio will be key in this contest.
A Game of Emotion and Adjustments
Washington did a terrible job last season making adjustments during games. The inability of Willingham's coaching staff to counter what their opponents were doing in the second half cost this team 4-5 wins.
Coach Willingham has to prove himself as a game day coach that can match wits with the best of the Pac Ten. The second half of the Hawaii game was hard to watch because Ty looked like a deer in the headlights on the sidelines.
DC Ed Donatell is a big upgrade over Kent Baer. The Husky defense will surprise you on Saturday night. They still aren't there from an experience factor but they are rapidly closing the gap in talent. Oregon is at a slight disadvantage because they really don't know what the Washington defense is going to throw at them.
For Washington to win on Saturday night they need to outcoach the Oregon staff. Willingham actually had a pretty good record against while he was at Stanford. Washington has really never been in a game with Oregon since Ty arrived. For some reason the Huskies have come out flat against these guys. They can't do that on Saturday night and expect to win. Willingham needs to get this team fired up in what may be one of the most important contests of his career.