University of Washington

No. 25 UW Huskies falter in second half as No. 12 Oregon prevails 35-31

Washington Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason (10) watches as time expires on Oregon’s 35-31 win over Washington. The Washington Huskies played the Oregon Ducks in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Washington Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason (10) watches as time expires on Oregon’s 35-31 win over Washington. The Washington Huskies played the Oregon Ducks in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Joshua.bessex@gmail.com

Oregon’s fight song played at Husky Stadium.

After the final, inconsequential seconds ticked off the Ducks’ 35-31 victory over No. 25 Washington, Oregon’s players jogged and jumped and skipped toward the corner of the stadium that was decked out in green and yellow. Their band played. Their fans cheered. Linebacker Troy Dye dropped to his back on the Huskies’ midfield logo and made a mock snow angel.

Meanwhile, the Huskies lingered around the field, quiet and serious as they removed their helmets and picked at the tape on their hands. A few of them shared hugs and handshakes with opposing players. Then they filtered toward the tunnel, off to try and figure out exactly what went wrong.

In the immediate aftermath, none of the players seemed to have explanation for how the game turned so sharply in Oregon’s favor. UW had a 21-14 lead at the break, an advantage it increased to 28-14 on its first drive of the third quarter thanks to a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacob Eason to freshman wide receiver Puka Nacua.

At that moment, in front of a sold-out and raucous home crowd, the Huskies appeared well on their way to handing No. 12 Oregon its first Pac-12 loss. But that was the last touchdown the Huskies would score. And the Ducks? They added three more. The last one — a 5-yard pass from quarterback Justin Herbert to Jaylon Redd with 5:10 left in the fourth quarter — was the game-winner.

The Huskies got the ball back after that. They had a chance to salvage a win, and they moved into Oregon territory. But then Eason was sacked on second down. Then UW was called for a false start. After Eason completed a 20-yard pass to Marquis Spiker, the Huskies were facing fourth-and-3. Eason targeted Nacua but the ball missed his outstretched hands as he was hit by an Oregon defender, prompting demands for a pass interference call that never came. On the television broadcast, a rules analyst said it should have.

Asked about it, head coach Chris Petersen said: “What did it look like to you guys? You guys have a better vantage point than me. I think we know.”

Afterward, the Huskies quietly attempted to analyze the drop-off after halftime. Trouble was, they didn’t feel like anything was different. Oregon’s game plan didn’t change, Eason said. UW’s didn’t either. There was only one explanation he could muster.

“They just executed theirs better in the second half,” he said.

Then there was running back Salvon Ahmed: “I just think we weren’t executing how we were supposed to. That’s what it comes down to was just the details. We just got to get better on our game plan, executing our plays.”

Center Nick Harris: “We didn’t execute enough plays in the fourth quarter. Nothing changed. They didn’t do anything different. We didn’t do anything different. We just didn’t execute enough in the fourth quarter.”

The word came up repeatedly. Execution. It was the only difference any of the players could find.

And that was enough.

It’s why, after going into halftime with 21 points and 235 total yards, the Huskies managed just 10 points and 179 yards in the second half. It’s why they didn’t score in the fourth quarter, putting up a measly 52 yards.

For Oregon, the trend was reversed. The Ducks scored 21 points after the break, putting up 227 yards. Herbert, who entered halftime having completed 14-of-24 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, finished the game 24-of-38 for 280 yards and four touchdowns.

“They brought some different things here and there,” Eason said, “but nothing they haven’t shown on tape.”

Entering the game, Oregon had allowed just a single touchdown since a season-opening loss to Auburn. Paired with the rain that fell throughout most of the morning and early afternoon, a low-scoring game was expected. That’s not what happened — far from it — but the Ducks found a way to win anyway.

UW scored four touchdowns, which equaled the amount Oregon had given up in its six previous games. The Ducks entered the game allowing just 8.7 points and 267.7 yards per game. The Huskies finished with 31 points and 414 total yards. The offense did everything it needed to do — until it didn’t.

“It just comes down to details,” said Ahmed, who finished with 140 yards on 24 carries on a day when UW was missing backup running backs Richard Newton and Sean McGrew. “We got to be able to lock in on the details and go out there and be able to get a win for our team.”

The same could be said for the defense.

Oregon scored on its first possession of the game. Herbert completed 6-of-6 passes as the Ducks went 75 yards in 12 plays. The drive was capped by a 12-yard pass from Herbert to Spencer Webb.

But then the defense locked in, forcing two straight three-and-outs as the Huskies built a 14-7 lead. But a familiar problem emerged in the second half: Stopping the run. The Ducks racked up 190 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries as three running backs finished with at least 50 yards. At halftime, Oregon had just 46 rushing yards on 15 carries.

Asked for an explanation, cornerback Myles Bryant took his cue from the offense.

“They ran the same plays, but we got to do a better job of executing,” he said, “just getting guys to the ground and fitting gaps better.”

The missed tackles that have plagued UW all season began in the first half and increased in the second. After every loss — Cal and Stanford and now Oregon — it’s been a topic of conversation. And after every loss, the Huskies have said tackling would be a focus at upcoming practices. The lack of progress, Bryant said, is frustrating.

“It’s always hard when you try to fix something, you fix it and then it doesn’t end up being fixed,” he said. “All you can do is keep trying to fix it. You can’t just give up now since there is still a lot of football left. That’s something we’re trying to do.”

UW, one of just two teams to play eight weeks without a break, will now enter a bye week. When the Huskies return, they’ll face No. 13 Utah at home. But a season that started with so much promise — and a Pac-12 championship as a goal — is now irreversibly off course. Barring a miracle, UW is out of contention to defend its conference title.

The Huskies will have to find something else to play for.

“I feel like we got a good team and we’ve got guys who really love the process of everything,” Bryant said. “We’re going to stay true to the process and then whatever happens, happens.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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