This time, the anticipated excitement – following a week’s worth of buildup and fervor surrounding the Pacific Northwest’s most volatile and scintillating college football rivalry – fizzled in a flurry of feathers.
It’s what Ducks have been doing to Huskies regularly lately – and continued to do Saturday in 12th-ranked Oregon’s 43-19 trampling of Washington in front of 67,809 fans at Husky Stadium.
Where didn’t Oregon hold an advantage? Its rushing offense, led by freshman LaMichael James (career-high 154 yards) and multi-talented quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (a pair of short touchdown runs), faced little resistance after the first quarter.
Its defense, which has been keeping opponents out of the end zone, did the same to the Huskies. Only after Chris Polk’s short TD run early in the fourth quarter, when the game was decided, did the Ducks’ streak of 15 quarters without allowing an offensive TD come to an end.
And special teams? More on that Oregon domination/UW disaster later.
It all added up to the Ducks’ sixth consecutive victory in the series – their longest streak against the Huskies – starting with a 31-6 win in 2004. Oregon has dominated in the streak, with none of its victories by fewer than 20 points.
The last time UW coach Steve Sarkisian had seen anything like the outcome Saturday in person? Well … never. At least, not as a assistant at Southern California.
Perhaps that blurred some of his recollection, during the postgame press conference, of what truly unfolded in the game.
“If we would have just came out and got physically beat up in this game, or were maybe just completely outmatched, I would maybe feel (we’re not as good as I thought),” the first-year UW coach said. “I hesitate to say, ‘We’re not good.’ I don’t want to say that, or ... ‘Well, it’s going to take us longer than I thought.’ I still think we’re a dang good football team.”
Improving, yes. Until Saturday, the Huskies had played pretty much every team on their schedule tough. The outcome was in doubt into the second half against Stanford, and the decisions went right to the wire against Notre Dame, Arizona and Arizona State the past three weeks.
What those games uncovered – a lack of depth, especially on special teams – is what Oregon thoroughly exposed Saturday.
UW led 3-0 after the first quarter, and had the ball near midfield before Will Tukuafu sacked Jake Locker to force the Huskies into punt formation.
Little did the home team know that the Ducks had something waiting for what figured to be just a routine fourth-down punt.
“We run the same exact punt scheme ourselves,” Oregon receiver Rory Cavaille said. “We kind of know where the weaknesses are. Coach Oz (Tom Osbourne) knew were to attack it.”
The Ducks overloaded the right side of the line of scrimmage, enough that Cavaille, a Shelton product, broke through and blocked Will Mahan’s punt attempt.
The ball bounced backward, and Tryell Irvin jumped on it in the end zone for an Oregon touchdown.
To make matters worse, the Ducks were paying attention – the Huskies didn’t have 11 players on the field for the PAT kick – and they went for a two-point pass, which they converted for an 8-3 lead.
Washington needed to answer, and nearly did after two big plays – a 34-yard run by Chris Polk and Locker’s 26-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse – as the Huskies reached the Ducks’ 4 for a first-and-goal.
After a first-down incompletion, Polk’s nagging ankle injury began bothering him so much he stepped out of the huddle with his team knocking on the door. In came Demitrius Bronson, who was held to 2 yards on a pair of carries on second and third downs.
Sarkisian decided to go for it on fourth down, calling for Locker to roll out to the right. The junior flipped a pass intended for tight end Kavario Middleton on the end line. But it had no zip on it, and it was picked off by safety Javes Lewis.
“(Oregon) covered things up pretty well. I didn’t feel I could get in running the ball,” Locker said. “Yeah, just didn’t convert on it.”
What followed were more UW special-teams blues. When the Huskies stopped the Ducks on their next drive at the UW 15, Oregon faked a field goal, and got the first down on Nate Costa’s 7-yard run.
“I’ve never seen two (fakes) … but against Cal, they ran the same thing – Washington State, the same thing,” UW special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen said. “We’d seen it. We practiced it all week. They just did a nice job scheming us out.”
Masoli’s 1-yard touchdown run a minute later gave Oregon a 15-3 lead 2:22 before halftime.
When the Ducks stuffed the UW offense for a three-and-out to start the second half, and scored touchdowns on their next three drives – two in less than a minute – the air rushed out of the Huskies’ hopes.
At 3-5 heading into a bye week, and with games at Oregon State and UCLA, and a home date against California, a trip to the postseason seems like a very remote possibility for the 2009 Huskies.
“It’s very hard, especially when they’re a rival team,” Polk said. “We hate everything about them, so it’s real hard. But that’s just the way things go. It’s the ups and downs of football.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442