BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Oregon's prospects better if Herbert returns at quarterback, but Huskies still have big goals, super defense

DUCKS FOOTBALLKudos to the kid, quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who helped the Oregon Ducks beat Utah last weekend. He had a lot of doubters, including me, and Burmeister, helped by an all-around team effort, got the job done.

Now, a different challenge awaits, 7 p.m. Saturday against Washington (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

The Huskies are super defensively, leading (by far) the Pac-12 in total defense (236.2 yards allowed per game), pass defense (164.6), rush defense (71.6) and scoring defense (12.1 points).

Quarterback Jake Browning leads a UW offense that leaned heavily on the run — Myles Gaskin, Lavon Coleman — last weekend but can be efficient through the air, with Dante Pettis a top target.

I'll be diplomatic, steering away from any bold statements about the Ducks (5-4, 2-4), such as, "It's impossible to win, just stay home." I'm not sure the Ducks can beat the Huskies with Burmeister at the helm, going against the UW defense; the Ducks have a chance, if QB Justin Herbert plays.

In fact, I'd give the Ducks a pretty good chance of winning. Herbert is a special player, and he can wing it with accuracy and all over the field, and he's really smart within the offense. He gets it. The Ducks need to spread the field with passing to open up their run game even more; Burmeister completed some simple passes last weekend, and it helped the Ducks rush for 347 yards. Herbert could get hot, and the Ducks could get their run-pass combination going at Washington, and threaten the Huskies.

Burmeister is too raw, especially to play effectively in a game against a Pac-12 title contender and aspiring College Football Playoff team.

And, I think the Ducks defense can do some damage on the road, limiting the UW run game and putting pressure on Browning and making the QB hit on some passes. (Then again, Browning threw six TD passes in UW's 10-touchdown game at Oregon last year). What would happen, should fortunes turn, and Browning gets knocked out of the game?

Coach Willie Taggart bent over backward to say Herbert could have played last weekend, without saying if he had been medically cleared. One has to assume Herbert is capable of playing but Taggart is trying to be cautious as to prevent re-injury.

The Ducks need one win for bowl eligibility, although Taggart talks openly about them winning the three remaining games and doubling the program's win total — from four in 2016 to eight. Dare to dream, Ducks, with Taggart in charge.

The Ducks have some moxie at times, some competitors, and they could put up a good fight and pull off a big upset. They could play inspired football, and clean football, and the QB could make a difference. Chances are they'll simply put up a good fight and not suffer a big blowout loss.

The Huskies, I believe, still smarting from losing 12 consecutive games to Oregon, a streak snapped last year with their epic 70-21 win at Autzen Stadium. Don't think coach Chris Petersen, and his Pac-12 title/College Football Playoff veterans, will slip up at Husky Stadium. And, they have another Pac-12 title and CFB spot in their sights.

It's going to take some kind of offensive performance by the Ducks to gash the UW defense. If Herbert plays, it could be closer; if it's Burmeister, I'd take the Huskies by three scores.

THE PICK: Washington 35, Oregon 17

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