Pressure Penix, Deal With Odunze: Keys To A Ducks Victory In Vegas In Final Pac-12 Championship Game


Contributor, 750 The Game

I’m not sure how much larger the stakes could be in Las Vegas this Friday. The winner of this year’s Pac-12 Championship Game is almost guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. A win puts Bo Nix in an excellent spot to be the Ducks’ second ever Heisman Trophy winner, and a loss gives the award to LSU’s Jayden Daniels. Oh, and to top it all off, Dan Lanning is looking to beat Washington for the first time.

I wrote before the last meeting that it was the most consequential matchup in these two Big 10-bound teams’ illustrious history. It was. Yet it seems to pale in comparison to what’s on the line at Allegiant Stadium on Friday night. October 14th would have been the biggest win of Dan Lanning’s young (and promising) coaching career. Criticisms of his 4th down decisions swirled after another heartbreaking loss to Oregon’s big time rival. Now, Lanning can gain forgiveness from fans for both losses if the Ducks win the final Pac-12 Championship Game. 

The point spread would tell you that Oregon should win the game as a 9.5-point favorite. If the Ducks cover that number and win by 10+ points, they will (in my view) guarantee themselves a spot in the CFP. They’ve been really impressive over the last six weeks of the season, with a 31-7 win over the then-No. 16 team in the country being the final statement as to their pedigree. 

Oregon fans have good reason to feel confident going into this game. Ignoring how Washington has been playing, the Ducks have shown themselves to be a complete team — outside of kicking field goals. The defense has been fast, physical, and great situationally. The offense hasn’t run the ball quite as well as they did in the first half of the season, but Bo Nix playing at a Heisman level every week has kept the offense producing at a high level. Wide receivers Troy Franklin and Tez Johnson have become reliable and explosive targets for Nix, and they’re two of several weapons that offensive coordinator Will Stein knows how to use well.

That said, I don’t expect the Huskies to make anything easy.

Washington hasn’t played its best football every week since the win over Oregon on October 14th, but they just keep winning. Their execution in key situations late in games has been absolutely flawless, normally involving a throw from Michael Penix Jr. to WR Rome Odunze. If the game comes down to a late game sequence, I would favor the Huskies in that sort of spot. Penix to Odunze is apparently unstoppable when they need a conversion or touchdown, and on the other side Oregon doesn’t have a reliable field goal kicker. Couple those realities with Oregon likely to be without their number-two corner Jahlil Florence, and the Ducks are clearly better off not letting it get to that spot.

This game will come down to two units on Oregon’s defense: the defensive line and the secondary. Washington has the best receiving core in the country, and though Penix hasn’t been himself lately he can still make big time throws and explosive plays. 

Oregon’s secondary has not fared well against Washington in the last two meetings. Dontae Manning had a great game against Oregon State with a pass breakup and an interception, but the Huskies’ wideouts (and quarterback) present a higher challenge. I wonder about the Ducks’ safeties as well, who have been up and down in coverage this season. Both units could be aided by the defensive line having its best game of the year. The key to slowing down the Huskies prolific offense is generating QB pressures, something that Penix is not as capable of running away from like Bo Nix.

I don’t have any qualms about the Oregon offense. They’ve scored at least 33 points in every game this season, though I would feel better as a Duck fan if they ran it for more than 140 yards as they did against the Beavs. Anything to keep Penix and Co. on the sideline as spectators is a tool that Oregon needs to have in its arsenal this week. 

If the Ducks are able to get pressure on Penix to help out the secondary, that could go a long way in helping Oregon claim its first (real) Pac-12 Championship since 2019. 

Score Prediction:

Oregon 38, Washington 27

Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.