It’s true that these Oregon Ducks are different, that they’ve regressed from their natural state of dominance, that their defense will cost them games they should otherwise win. It already has.
But if there exists a decline precipitous enough to allow them to lose to the Washington Huskies, the Ducks still haven’t found it, and for that Oregon fans were again able to celebrate on Saturday at Husky Stadium.
Before a crowd of 69,285, the Ducks did what they were seemingly born to do, beating the Huskies, 26-20. It was their 12th consecutive victory over UW — as if you didn’t already know — a streak many thought might end this year as the Ducks entered as underdogs for the first time since the Huskies last beat them in 2003.
The Huskies (3-3, 1-2 in Pac-12) had a chance to win the game after Oregon inexplicably threw incomplete on third down with 1:18 remaining and the Huskies out of timeouts. But K.J. Carta-Samuels, playing quarterback after an apparent injury to starter Jake Browning on the previous possession, threw an interception with 24 seconds left to seal it.
Oregon entered this game ranked 116th nationally in scoring defense, allowing more points per game than every other Pac-12 team. The Ducks’ defense was beleaguered. They gave up 62 points to Utah. Gave up 42 points to Eastern Washington. Gave up 45 to Washington State in a double-overtime loss last week.
And yet it took the Huskies nearly all of three quarters to find the end zone. They came close twice — first when they drove inside Oregon’s 20 in the first half before settling for a field goal, then again when a Browning completion to Brayden Lenius gained 30 yards to Oregon’s 11 on UW’s first possession of the second half.
Trailing 16-3, the Huskies could have cut the lead to one touchdown. Husky Stadium was begging to roar again. But Browning was sacked twice, and the Huskies ultimately settled for Cameron Van Winkle’s 46-yard field goal, another unwanted consolation prize in a game that called for far more than that.
Meanwhile, Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams put on another magic show, even if it didn’t quite have the same ring as his 475-yard, seven-touchdown performance while playing here for Eastern Washington last season. Adams still escaped pressure and kept plays alive with his feet, using several long, third-down conversions to total 272 passing yards and two touchdowns. Oregon tailback Royce Freeman added 138 yards on 27 carries.
When the Huskies finally did score a touchdown, on Myles Gaskin’s impressive, 72-yard burst up the middle with 39 seconds left in the third quarter, Oregon receiver Bralon Addison promptly returned the kickoff 87 yards to UW’s 9.
Oregon, though, wound up missing a 32-yard attempted field goal, giving the Huskies the ball at their own 20-yard line, trailing 23-13 with 14:06 to play in the game.
But they went three-and-out. And Oregon responded with a 13-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a made field goal, giving the Ducks a 26-13 lead with 8:57 left.
That’s when the Huskies actually made it a game, Browning completing a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jaydon Mickens to make it 26-20. But the Huskies used far too much time, displaying a puzzling lack of urgency as it took them 5:22 to drive 71 yards.
Only 3:35 remained when they finally scored, and because UW had to burn a timeout prior to Browning’s touchdown pass, the Huskies basically had to force Oregon to go three-and-out to get the ball back.
They didn’t force a three-and-out, but even after Oregon gifted them a final possession, Carta-Samuels couldn’t summon the necessary heroics to pull it off.
Given earlier opportunities to make this one even more interesting, the Huskies simply could not get out of their own way.
They jumped offside before a fourth-and-4 Oregon punt attempt in the first quarter, giving the Ducks a new set of downs. They were penalized twice for holding on a possession in the second quarter, then held again on the ensuing punt — a penalty that cost them 40 yards of field position on a drive that Oregon capped with an 8-yard touchdown run by Addison, giving the Ducks a 13-3 lead with 4:30 to play in the first half.
A perfectly thrown pass by Browning to Deontae Cooper on a wheel route in the end zone bounced off Cooper’s hands on UW’s next possession. It would have been a 25-yard touchdown pass.
Instead, the Huskies stalled at UO’s 22-yard line after a sack of Browning on third down, and settled for Van Winkle’s 40-yard field goal.
Oregon got the ball back with 1:01 to play in the half and started at its own 36-yard line thanks to another UW penalty — this time a 15-yard personal foul against Darrell Daniels for tackling the kick returner out of bounds.
Adams, dancing in and out of the pocket yet again, fired a long pass to Addison up the left sideline on third-and-13. UW cornerback Kevin King tripped and fell. Addison caught it for a 44-yard gain, setting up Oregon’s eventual 28-yard field goal just before the first-half buzzer for a 16-3 lead.
NOTE: UW safety Brian Clay was ejected in the fourth quarter after being called for targeting. By rule, he must sit out the first half of UW’s game next week at Stanford.
SATURDAY: Washington (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12 North) at Stanford (5-1, 4-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN, 1000-AM, 97.3-FM