An improving defense has helped Oregon rise to its highest ranking in two years. That needs to continue now that the offense has been hit hard by injuries. The seventh-ranked Ducks will have to rely on their depth Saturday when they make the short trip north to face Pac-10 rival Washington at Husky Stadium.
Oregon (5-1, 2-1) rebounded from its first loss of the season with a dominant performance last Saturday in a 53-7 home victory over Washington State. Dennis Dixon threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score as the high-powered Ducks went over the 50-point mark for the third time in four games. Oregon is fifth in the nation in scoring (45.2) and sixth in total offense (532.5).
The victory, though, could prove costly as senior wide receiver Cameron Colvin and junior running back Jeremiah Johnson suffered season-ending injuries. Colvin - second on the team with 20 receptions for 248 yards and two touchdowns - broke his ankle early in the game, likely ending his career at Oregon. Colvin was already filling in for Brian Paysinger, who suffered a season-ending right knee injury in practice last month. In the second quarter Saturday, Johnson took a handoff before a Washington player hit his right knee and tore his ACL. Johnson, third on the team with 360 rushing yards, will have surgery and is out for the rest of the season.
Although Oregon's offense should still be very good, the injuries will put the defense under greater pressure to continue its steady improvement. Since allowing 545 yards of total offense in a 48-27 season-opening win over Houston, the Ducks have given up an average of 361.6 yards in the past five games. They limited Washington State - the Pac-10's leader in passing offense - to 251 yards through the air.
Washington (2-4, 0-3) hopes to snap a four-game losing streak - its longest since dropping six in a row last season. The Huskies were again done in by a poor third quarter last Saturday in a 44-20 loss at then-No. 12 Arizona State. In the last four games, Washington has been outscored 56-0 in the third quarter. The Huskies haven't scored in that period since the 2:17 mark of the season opener against Syracuse, a 20-yard run by Louis Rankin.
The four-game skid has put Washington into the difficult position of needing five wins in its final seven games to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2002. Oregon will be the fifth ranked team the Huskies have faced this season. They have lost three of the first four versus Top 25 opponents, recording the lone win against then-No. 22 Boise State on Sept. 8.
Oregon has won three straight overall against Washington but hasn't won in Seattle since Nov. 8, 1997.