Dennis Dixon went down this path a season ago.
Dixon, Oregon's talented quarterback, was outstanding for the first six games of 2006, only to see the Ducks fall apart when he struggled in the second half of the season.
Fast-forward 12 months and Dixon is again running the Ducks' spread offense with the precision and potency coach Mike Bellotti envisioned when he implemented this offense three years ago.
"He put up these numbers in the first half of last season. A lot of people tend to forget that in the turmoil that was the second half of the season," Bellotti said. "He's much more confident, much more consistent now."
Now the seventh-ranked Ducks (5-1, 2-1 Pac-10) come to Seattle on Saturday for the first time since 2003 to face slumping Washington (2-4, 0-3) in what Oregon hopes isn't a trap. The Ducks host No. 13 USC to Eugene next week and No. 12 Arizona State the following weekend.
"It's about keeping it rolling and trying to get to one of those January bowl games," Oregon's Jaison Williams said.
For Washington, it's yet another ranked opponent on a brutal schedule. Each of the Huskies' last four opponents &
all losses &
has at one point this year been ranked in the top 12.
Last week, it was Arizona State, which blitzed the Huskies for 21 points in the third quarter of a 44-20 win. In its last four games, Washington has been outscored 56-0 in the third quarter and 105-41 in the second half.
It's the 100th meeting between the two schools, and Oregon will be trying for a fourth straight win over Washington for the first time since 1928 to 1931.
"It doesn't get any easier," Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said.
The Huskies are still trying to capitalize on the versatility of their quarterback, redshirt freshman Jake Locker. Sometimes the Huskies run a spread offense similar to Oregon's. Sometimes it's a traditional two-back set, and other times it's a variation of both trying to maximize Locker's ability and keep defenses off-balance.
"I'm comfortable enough with the offense that I understand where I need to go with the ball," Locker said. "So I feel like I've made some pretty good growth in that area through game experience."
Last week against the Sun Devils, there wasn't much growth. Locker completed just 10 of 28 passes for 142 yards and was held to a season-low 48 yards rushing. Even though Locker has thrown for more than 200 yards only once this season, he accounts for more than 70 percent of Washington's offensive production.
"Right now, he's pretty much their team," Oregon linebacker Jerome Boyd said. "We have to stop him, we have to contain him and if we can do that, I think we'll be pretty good."
If the Huskies need a prototype of how to best use on a quarterback who can run and pass, Dixon provides a fine example.
Dixon is completing more than 70 percent of his passes, leading the top-scoring offense in the Pac-10 (45 points per game) that ranks fifth nationally. Dixon has thrown only two interceptions this season &
both in the Ducks' lone loss, to California. Last week against Washington State, Dixon completed 21 of 28 passes, threw for three touchdowns and led the Ducks to 40 first-half points.
"I mean, with experience comes confidence," Dixon said. "As long as the team stays together and we play within ourselves, everyone feels comfortable. But that's easier said than done, too. We still have to go out there and play execution football."
Last year, Dixon's first six games were almost equal to this season &
63 percent completions, more than 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns. But that start was overshadowed by the Ducks' season-ending collapse, and Dixon lost his starting job for the final two games of the regular season.
Oregon doesn't look to be on the verge of a similar collapse, although there are new challenges to overcome. Saturday's game will be the first without running back Jeremiah Johnson and wide receiver Cameron Colvin, both of whom were lost for the season with injuries in last week's rout of Washington State.
"We have a lot of depth on this side of the ball and we know what we're capable of getting done," Dixon said. "Now it's all about doing it."
Talented QBs on display when No. 7 Ducks take on Huskies