Dane Miller’s 2023 Pac-12 Championship Game Preview

The No. 5 Ducks and No. 3 Huskies do battle in Las Vegas on Friday with everything on the line

Posted on November 30, 2023

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The Ducks and Huskies do battle in Las Vegas on Friday with everything on the line, including the last-ever Conference title, a likely spot in the Playoff, and a favorable shot at the Heisman Trophy.

The two rivals are joined at the hip in their move to the Big Ten, and the bitterness is sure to continue, but there may never be a bigger game between them.

I preview the Championship Game here and the picks of our writers and broadcasters appear at the bottom.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12No. 5 Oregon v. No. 3 WashingtonWashington football pac-12

Friday, December 1
5:00 pm PT, ABC

It all comes down to this.

With an invitation to the College Football Playoff on the line, Washington and Oregon face off for the most monumental game in the history of the rivalry.

In many ways, the Huskies have the personnel on offense to exploit Oregon’s weaknesses. The Ducks have a much improved defensive line this season, but their secondary remains somewhat questionable.

Tosh Lupoi’s group is 48th nationally in passing yards allowed per game and 52nd in interceptions forced.

The secondary is dealing with injuries, too. Starting safety Evan Williams has been playing with a club and starting cornerback Jahlil Florence is questionable.

That’s not ideal facing the nation’s No. 2 passing offense.

To overcome those issues, getting pressure on Michael Penix Jr. will be key.

The Ducks were only able to sack him once in the first matchup and star wide receiver Jalen McMillan hardly played.

In Vegas, McMillan will be back on the field to add another dimension to UW’s passing attack that wasn’t present last time around.

Michael Penix throws vs WSU | Jared Wenzelburger/The Chronicle

Kalen DeBoer’s offense is designed to get the ball out quickly to players in open space, too. McMillan is yet another weapon in the toolkit for Penix to find.

At the same time, the Dawgs have been steadily expanding their rushing offense. Ryan Grubb is willing to break tendencies early in games to soften up opposing defenses. And Dillon Johnson is primed to take advantage.

If Oregon over-commits to defending the pass, Johnson could exploit the open space in the middle of the field for pivotal runs.

On the other side of the ball, though, Washington has defensive problems.

The Husky front seven is respectable but the group is eighth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed per game. Oregon ran all over them in the first matchup, posting 204 yards rushing and two scores on the ground.

That’s not even the worst part.

Washington is 122nd nationally in passing yards allowed per game. The secondary is soft and gives up yards like nobody’s business. That’s a significant issue facing the country’s No. 1 passing offense.

To their credit, the UW secondary has helped propel the team to No. 8 nationally in interceptions forced. To overcome the amount of passing yards expected to be given up, the Dawgs have to force a turnover or two.

Troy Franklin runs for a TD vs OSU | Sean Meagher/The Oregonian/Oregonlive

Even if they do, it’s still a mismatch on paper that could be exploited for chunk plays. Especially on a neutral field inside a domed stadium.

In other words, there’s a reason why Oregon is favored by almost 10 points.

But there’s one factor the Vegas oddsmakers may be missing. This is a rivalry game. All the stats and analytics can arguably be thrown out the window. They don’t matter.

What matters is who wants it more and who is able to execute on the field while minimizing mistakes.

Both offenses are elite. Bo Nix could win the Heisman with a strong performance and Michael Penix Jr. could become a legend if he secures the win.

The Ducks have time and time again failed to win the “big game” and would be wise to guard against overconfidence. This is going to be a battle. It won’t be easy.

Special teams play can make a difference and Oregon’s kicking game has been atrocious. Fourth-down decision-making will play a factor, as well, and we all know the mistakes that Lanning has made over the last two years.

Don’t count on all the tendencies to play out in this one. Washington can win.

And to end on a heavier note, this is the final game in the 108-year history of the Pac-12 as we know it.

So give us an Instant Classic, boys. We’ll turn off the lights for you.

Game Picks from Our Senior Writers and Broadcasters

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