Nov. 6, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
EUGENE, Ore. - The Huskies didn't get an improbable win at No. 1 Oregon. But even without Jake Locker, they did get two things that could boost them over the final three games of this wildly up-and-down season.
Respect and confidence.
"In the first half - when we were fresh and they were fresh - we outplayed them. But they wore us down," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said late Saturday afternoon, after Oregon turned an 18-13 game in the third quarter into a 53-16 victory at what was a muted and stunned Autzen Stadium for much of the day.
Oregon (9-0, 6-0) scored all of its points in the final three quarters, 28 of them in the game's final 18 minutes.
"A loss is a loss," said running back Chris Polk, who rushed for 77 yards on 17 carries for Washington (3-6, 2-4). "But even though we didn't get the win I guarantee they respected us."
For almost three full quarters, the hard-charging Huskies were stunning college football's top team. They were playing resilient defense and forcing turnovers. Redshirt freshman Keith Price was wowing with improvisation as a fill-in quarterback making his first collegiate start.
Pac-10 tackling leader Mason Foster was compiling most of his 14 stops and recovering a fumble as Washington trailed Oregon 18-13 in the third quarter. Usually wild Autzen was so quiet, you could hear a Duck shudder.
"Their fans were actually complimenting us on playing a great game," Huskies linebacker Cort Dennison said. "I've never heard that from an opposing crowd - especially from Oregon. We're used to them saying some really mean things."
It was stunning not only that it was coming at mighty Oregon, but also that it was coming one week after Washington lost 41-0 at home to Stanford.
"We gained some respect," cornerback Quinton Richardson said.
But after UW converted the Ducks' second lost fumble and closed to within five on Price's 17-yard touchdown pass to D'Andre Goodwin, Oregon's Josh Huff returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Huskies 6. That continued UW's season-long problems on kick coverage.
On the next play, Oregon's Darron Thomas threw a touchdown pass to Jeff Maehl, and Washington never got closer.
"When we made it a game and put a little bit of stress on them, that kickoff return really took the wind out of our sails," Sarkisian said. "And it got their mojo going."
The Huskies must now win all three of their final regular-season games - versus UCL A on Nov. 18 following a bye next week, then at Washington State and at California - to fulfill their goal of six wins and qualify for their first bowl game since 2002.
With a gritty effort like Saturday's, that's not impossible.
"The reality is, they are a better team than us," Sarkisian said, shrugging outside the coach's room beneath the stadium. "That's OK. We lost to a really good team, in their building."
Dennison was exhausted - but also proud.
"We played with the No. 1 team in the country for a long time. We showed, yeah, we can play with the big boys," Dennison said.
The Ducks began drives at the Washington 6 and the Huskies 37 and the UW 16 in the second half. That and Washington's offense coverting just 2 of 16 third-down chances wore down the defense as much as Oregon did.
"I thought we had really good effort. The first three quarters were good, then we got in bad field position," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "I'm really proud of the guys for the most part. It's just too bad we gave up 53 points with a couple of short fields. It's hard to not give up points against the No. 1 offense in the country when you are playing on a short field."
Locker watched from the sidelines and reading a play card in sweats and his white, No. 10 game jersey because of a broken rib he sustained last week. He saw Price run wild behind his own line to find receivers against a heavy Oregon pass rush.
The effervescent kid from Compton, Calif., was smiling as he trotted onto the field for his first play as a college starter. He curled back and made twisty turns to somehow got off 28 passes despite being sacked five times and hounded dozens more. He completed 14 of those throws, for 127 yards and the touchdown pass to Goodwin that briefly had Washington thinking improbable thoughts.
"I played OK," he said, lamenting what he said was his tendency to give up on pass plays too early to scramble, for fear of getting sacked some more. "I left a lot of plays out there, a lot of yards out there.
"I think we had a great chance."
After Erik Folk kicked his third field goal to get the Dawgs within 25-16 with 6:14 left in the third quarter, LaMichael James scored his second touchdown. Then Thomas scrambled, stopped and started again to get past defensive end Hau'oli Jamora for a 7-yard touchdown run. Jamora was making his second career start in place of injured Talia Crichton.
Thomas' second touchdown scramble of the game made it 39-16 Oregon in the final minute of the third quarter. And the nervous in yellow-and-green making up the largest sporting crowd in this state's history, 60,017, exhaled for the first time all day.
The Huskies and Ducks played a stunningly scoreless first quarter. It was the first time this season the nation's highest-scoring offense had been blanked in the opening period.
Even more surprising: Washington should have been in front.
Price missed a touchdown pass on the game's first play. Jermaine Kearse broke 10 yards behind the Oregon defense, but Price underthrew him for an incompletion that would haunt the Huskies the rest of the day.
"I got hit," Price said, "but I still have to make that throw."
Oregon went up 3-0 early in the second quarter after the Huskies defense stiffened in the red zone. Then Washington tied it by converting a fumble by quarterback Thomas on a botched handoff into a 51-yard field goal by Folk.
A 1-yard touchdown run by James - coupled with a trick play flip to the kicker for a two-point conversion - then a TD run by Thomas of 34 yards on a scramble down the sideline put Oregon up 18-3 late in the first half.
The Huskies resolutely answered with a hurried, 12-play drive on which Price darted all over the backfield to avoid pass rushers and keep plays alive. Price found Kearse open on a post route in the middle of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown that apparently had Washington back in the game.
But fellow wide receiver Goodwin had lined up incorrectly on the play, on the line instead of off it. That "covered up" the tight end and made the end ineligible to run downfield on a pass route. Instead of being down 18-10 at the half, Washington settled for a 27-yard field goal from Folk that made it 18-6.
The unexpectedly intriguing afternoon began with the loose Huskies rocking their team buses, as usual, as they pulled into the stadium two hours before the game. Ducks fans responded with obligatory finger-flipping, boos and catcalls.
That was as much fun as Ducks fans had for the first 2½ quarters.
"I knew we had it in us," Dennison said of the Huskies' effort. "I knew we'd come out and compete. And that's what we did."