EUGENE — Oregon coach Chip Kelly seized on SpongeBob SquarePants when describing how the No. 2 Ducks feel about the past rivalry with the Washington Huskies.
He says most of the acrimony between the two teams occurred more than a decade ago.
“We’ve got kids that are 17, 18, 19 years old. You talk 10 years ago, they were 7 and 8. At 7 and 8 they were SpongeBob SquarePants. They weren’t worried about Joey Harrington," Kelly quipped.
“I think a lot of time people can bring up the past," he added. “But we’re always trying to meet fast, practice fast, those things. We don’t have a whole heck of a lot of time to give them a history of games played against a certain opponent."
While the Ducks (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) themselves may not buy into the hype over the rivalry, there is still a lot of back-and-forth razzing between fans in the neighboring Pacific Northwest states. And it is certain to continue tonight, when the No. 23 Huskies (3-1, 1-1) visit Autzen Stadium.
The rivalry’s rancor goes back many years, but Huskies’ fans remember “The Pick" in 1994, when freshman cornerback Kenny Wheaton saved the day for the Ducks when he picked off a pass by Damon Huard and ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown. The victory would help send Oregon to the Rose Bowl — and a clip of the play is still shown on the video scoreboard for fans before every home game.
The Huskies raised the ire of Ducks’ fans in 2002 when, after beating Oregon 42-10, the team danced for nearly an hour on the “O" on the 50-yard line at Autzen.
At times the battles between Washington and Oregon seemed to rival those with their in-state foes.
But the Ducks have won the past eight games between the two teams, diminishing the rivalry’s intensity some. In the meantime, USC has taken on a greater adversarial role for many Duck fans.
Oregon’s eight-game winning streak against Washington is the longest for either side in the history of the series, which dates back to 1900. The Ducks also have won eight straight games overall, going back to last season.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said the motivation is not in the rivalry, but rather in the No. 23 Huskies themselves.
“It’s not about that we’re playing Oregon or that it’s at Autzen or what uniforms they’re wearing or what uniforms we’re wearing," Sarkisian said. “It’s about getting to 2-0 in conference play. That’s what all these guys think. When you have to start looking for external motivators it can get dicey for you because you don’t know if you pushed the exact right buttons to get them excited to play. They’ll be ready to play because they want to be ready to play."
The game likely will come down to Washington’s defense against Oregon’s speedy offense.
Last week the Huskies held off then-No. 8 Stanford 17-13 in Seattle. The Cardinal managed only 68 yards rushing while passing for 170 yards, scoring on two field goals and an interception return.
The Huskies are ranked second in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing opponents an average of 315 yards and 19.8 points.
Oregon, meanwhile, averages more than 52 points and 550 yards in total offense.
But what stymies most of the Ducks’ opponents is the speed. With running backs who moonlight during the spring on the track team, Oregon’s no-huddle spread is hard to stop. Twenty of Oregon’s 33 touchdown drives this season have taken less than two minutes, and 11 have taken less than one minute.
The offense is guided by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, who has passed for 11 touchdowns while throwing four interceptions. He is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and is ranked second in the league in passing efficiency (152.7). Senior running back Kenjon Barner is averaging 121 rushing yards and 12 points per game.
“You just have to stay calm. You can’t get too hyped up, can’t come into the game too hyped because they’re running so many plays over and over and over again," Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “You miss your key and it’s an 80-yard touchdown play. You have to stay disciplined in what you’re doing."
Washington has been hardened by facing two other teams in the top 10. The Huskies fell 41-3 to No. 3 LSU before the victory over Stanford.
Sophomore running back Bishop Sankey, a first-year starter, is an emerging threat on the offense. He ran for 144 yards on 20 carries in the Huskies’ victory over Stanford, including a 61-yard touchdown run. The week before against Portland State, the sophomore rushed for 103 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns.
Last season, the Ducks defeated Washington 34-17 in the final game played at the old Husky Stadium before an extensive renovation that is set to be completed for the 2013 season.
Though the coaches downplay the rivalry, some of the taunting among the fans has obviously been heard by the players.
“You’ve just got to go out there and represent your school," Mariota said. “You can’t really put more on the game, but you know deep down it’s a big game."