SEATTLE (AP) — Before Edefuan Ulofoshio even wore purple and gold, he recognized there was something different about the atmosphere and feel when Washington and Oregon play.
When he became part of the rivalry as a freshman for the Huskies, the importance of the clash became clear.
“It was pretty adamant that this was a serious game. This wasn’t a game like any other,” Ulofoshio said.
And Saturday will be a game unlike any of the previous 114 played between the border rivals. For the first time, both No. 7 Washington and No. 8 Oregon will be ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 when they meet at Husky Stadium. (Kickoff at 12:30 p.m. on ABC)
Whenever the Ducks (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) and Huskies (5-0, 2-0) meet, it always falls into the category of a “big” game, especially with such passionate fan bases spewing vitriol.
But this might be the biggest yet, with the winner taking a clear step forward both in the Pac-12 race and the national conversation.
“I think every one of our players know exactly what this game means to them personally in that room, and then also just to everybody that’s a Duck fan,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “And they want to win.”
The intensity dates to the days when the Webfoots and the Sun Dodgers would clash. But it’s moments from the last 30 years that have amplified the mutual animosity.
Kenny Wheaton’s pick that helped send Oregon to the Rose Bowl in 1994.
Jake Browning’s point that ended a decade of frustration in a 70-point Washington outburst.
Twelve straight Oregon wins between 2004 and 2015.
And last year’s late rally by Washington for a 37-34 win in Eugene over the sixth-ranked Ducks.
That background provides the context for why Saturday is so notable in the history of a matchup that dates more than 100 years. Both have been good at various times in the past. But both did their part this year by getting off to unbeaten starts to make this final matchup as members of the Pac-12 meaningful in a way it’s never been.
With both teams headed to the Big Ten next season, this could be the final time the matchup has this level of gravitas. The aura around a Washington-Oregon matchup may be a little different in the future.
“We’re playing for the people before us and the people that come after us,” Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. said. “We understand that and we understand that they’re one of our rivals. You always want to beat your rivals.”
While the winner of the game takes an early step forward in the race for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, it will also be an opportunity for Penix and Oregon QB Bo Nix to enhance their positions in the Heisman Trophy discussion.
Penix leads the country in yards passing and total offense per game. Nix is only 14th in yards passing per game but has barely played in the fourth quarter, attempting only 14 passes in the final 15 minutes through five games.
Penix is currently listed as the Heisman favorite, but Nix isn’t far behind, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Penix is expected to have his full complement of offensive weapons available for the first time since Week 3 against Michigan State. Wide receiver Jalen McMillan has missed the last two games after suffering a leg injury in the first half of Washington’s win over Michigan State. But McMillian is expected to return after sitting out wins over California and Arizona to rejoin Rome Odunze and Ja’Lynn Polk as part of the best trio of wide receivers in the country. The three have combined for 79 catches for 1,378 yards and 15 total touchdowns.
But the challenge will be significant. While Oregon’s offense gets most of the attention, the Ducks have the second-best total defense and the best pass defense in the Pac-12. The Ducks are allowing 153.6 yards per game through the air and only 4.8 yards per attempt.
Could this be the week Oregon running back Bucky Irving gets enough carries to have a breakout performance? Irving hasn’t carried the ball more than 13 times in a game, leaving his numbers a little low. But when he has run the ball, Irving is averaging 7.9 yards per carry and he had a career-high 149 yards last season against Washington.