When the No. 2 Oregon Ducks head north to take on the No. 16 Washington Huskies on Saturday, it should be a great matchup between two of the top teams in the Pac 12. The Oregon offense has been rolling along at a prolific pace but the Washington defense may be athletic enough to hang with them for four quarters. On the other side, the UW offense has been almost as prolific in the early going but could get slowed down by an opportunistic Oregon defense. In a matchup that appears as close as this, the difference could be a big play on special teams where Oregon has a clear-cut advantage.
Part of the model that the Ducks have built their success on has been recruiting tremendous athletes and finding ways to get them the football. Often, that includes returning punts or kickoffs and it usually results in big plays. Even if it isn’t De’Anthony Thomas, who has four career special teams touchdowns, returning kicks as he continues to test out his injured ankle, the Oregon return game is a touchdown waiting to happen. Already this season, Bralon Addison has taken two punts back for touchdowns on seven returns.
And that could be bad news for Washington. Last week, the Huskies were gashed on kickoffs by Ty Montgomery who racked up 204 yards on returns, including a 99-yard return for a touchdown to open the game. It proved to be the difference for the Stanford Cardinal in their 31-28 win and cost UW their shot at the upset. Steve Sarkisian acknowledge their deficiencies on special teams and has worked a number of starters into special teams this week during practice. That opens up a whole new set of concerns about gassing your starters going up against one of the fastest offenses in the country, but Sark has to pick his poison.
The athletes that Oregon has to throw in on special teams are all capable of turning the tide of a game at any moment. Washington has looked vulnerable in their kick coverage and will have to play extremely disciplined to keep the Ducks from breaking this game open with a big play on special teams.