Everything about the pregame scene here felt like big-time college football, with University of Oregon legend Kenny Wheaton hopping on the back of a motorcycle just before kickoff against the rival Washington, exhorting the sellout crowd at Autzen Stadium on a picture-perfect Saturday in the Willamette Valley.
But when Oregon finally stopped running and catching and scoring, the result was really nothing special at all.
It was just another win over the Huskies, this one 45-20, the outcome in doubt only as long as it took the Ducks to score three touchdowns in the second quarter en route to a 28-6 halftime lead.
It was 35-6 after Oregon’s first possession of the second half, and 42-13 after Royce Freeman’s fourth rushing touchdown of the game.
Copy, paste. Wash, rinse, repeat. This beating was unfit for prime time, the Ducks hammering the Huskies for the 11th consecutive season, each of those triumphs decided by a final margin of 17 points or more.
Here was Saturday, in a nutshell, via the oratory of junior receiver Jaydon Mickens: “We made too many mistakes. We didn’t convert on third down a lot, and we didn’t really establish a running game or a passing game.”
Not exactly ideal execution against the ninth-ranked team in the country, especially against Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ junior quarterback.
Mariota was again magnificent, completing 24 of 33 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns, helping Oregon outgain UW 554-317.
But it was Freeman, the Ducks’ freshman running back, who gashed the Huskies most frequently. He carried 29 times for 169 yards and four scores, with a long of 37 and zero negative rushes.
The Huskies (5-2, 1-2 in Pac-12) allowed a surprising amount of yardage up the middle of their experienced, athletic front seven, and two of their three sacks of Mariota came well after the game had been decided.
Their offense wasn’t much better. Third-year sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles was 19 of 28 for 147 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an apparent head injury in the fourth quarter. He also threw his first interception of the season and fumbled on his final play of the game without being touched.
UW couldn’t run the ball, either. It averaged just 3.7 yards on 36 attempts against an Oregon defense that ranked 107th in the country in yards per game allowed.
“You can point at both sides of the ball,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “We got nothing going. We got three and outs. We didn’t run the ball even nearly good enough. So, kind of back to the drawing board. Seems like it’s a little bit two steps forward, one step back here.”
The Huskies started the game well enough, holding Oregon to a three-and-out on the opening possession before driving for a 33-yard Cameron Van Winkle field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
Oregon (6-1, 3-1) responded with a 7-play, 81-yard touchdown drive. Washington responded with another field goal. And that was a problem.
“I knew that if we didn’t come out fast on Oregon, they can put up a lot of points,” Mickens said. “Especially with a Heisman candidate at quarterback.”
Said Petersen: “We get down in the red zone a couple times early, have to settle for field goals — that’s not going to be good.”
It wasn’t. The Ducks used 17 plays to march 81 yards on their next drive for a 14-6 lead, scored again a little more than six minutes later on a 99-yard drive capped by Freeman’s third touchdown, and scored again with 1:32 left in the half on a 23-yard pass from Mariota to Byron Marshall. In between, the Huskies went nowhere and punted.
That was basically the game. Miles flipped a 3-yard touchdown pass to Deontae Cooper on fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter, and redshirt freshman Troy Williams, playing in place of the apparently injured Miles, scored on a seven-yard touchdown run with 5:22 to play.
Those scores were ultimately inconsequential against an Oregon team that, again, is considerably better than Washington.
“It’s tough,” said nose tackle Danny Shelton, a member of yet another senior class that will graduate with a winless record against Oregon. “But I know these coaches have something for us. I have confidence in Coach Pete and his system, and in a few years, this team’s going to be right up there.”
But on Saturday, they simply went down. Again.