Relax Husky fans! Before you go jumping off the nearest bridge, think about how far this program has come in three short years!
Last year the Ducks put up 53 points to the paltry 16 the Huskies could manage. A mere year later the Huskies could have, and probably should have, won the last game ever played at beloved Husky Stadium before the big renovation.
Had Keith Price not generously donated the ball to undeserving Duck cornerbacks, not once but twice, the Huskies could have left the field at halftime enjoying a two touchdown lead instead suffering the same at the hands of Oregon, bequeathed 14 easy points by driving a total of half a football field.
Washington completely out-played and out-classed Oregon in the first half, amassing 11 first downs to Oregon’s 6, with twice as many offensive plays. What the stats could not show was a far more hungry squad of Husky upstarts, jacked up by the presence of the eyes of the undefeated national champ team of two decades earlier.
But in spite of the play inequity, the total yards were nearly equal. Precisely the problem when playing the high-energy Ducks, especially when they donned the old Oakland Raider uniforms with the only school color being an out-of-place green “O” on silver helmets.
In the third quarter Oregon did what Oregon always seems to do. They came out on the opening drive with quick sideline strikes of 15 to 20 yards using both sidelines, stretching the defense and setting it up for what would come next. By the time the harried and panting Huskies caught their breath, Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James were suddenly shooting up the center of the field with five straight healthy gains, ended only by a nice juicy TD on 12 plays that consumed barely two and half minutes.
What had been a game the Huskies should have been winning, was suddenly 24-10 with a potential blowout looming.
But the Huskies didn’t pout. They came screaming right back up the field with their own quick 9 play drive, to answer with their own impressive touchdown. Keith Price threw a lofter on the left side of the end zone to five-star recruit Kaysen-Williams, for a Husky TD to bring it back to 24-17.
Williams, the all-world freshman recruited heavily by every team on the planet only last year, made the prettiest catch of the night and perhaps in his brief Husky career, stretching high to snag the pass with his big toes barely skimming the surface before they hit the sidelines.
Chris Polk was no slouch either, running up the middle from the shotgun formation on four straight draws with healthy gains on all but one. Oregon suddenly looked like deer’s in headlights, with zero defensive answers, especially when the suddenly resurgent sold out Husky crowd of over 72,000 were going nuts and creating noise mayhem.
All week long there had been festivities and hoopala for what would be the last game ever played at Husky Stadium, where past greats had dwelled on Saturday afternoons since 1920. In fact a full team of Husky greats were in the stands, intimidating both teams with the same glaring eyes that had mutilated every single opponent on the way to a national championship two decades prior.
Back when the current Dawgs were still urping up Mommy’s milk in their high chairs, these middle-aged guys with paunches and thinning hair had been wreaking havoc across the land, scoffing at east coast insistence that the also undefeated Miami Hurricanes would have had any chance of staying with them on the field. But they never got the chance to prove it, since this was long before the BCS system of placing undefeated teams in bowl games.
And yet back to the future, the Huskies were having a hard time understanding how the Ducks could have a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter, given how silly UW was making them look. But this is what the Ducks do to opponents, lead when they’re being dominated.
Keith Price missing receivers by sailing passes 10 yard over their heads did not help. Passes with open receivers that looked to be sure touchdowns, ended up going the other way twice in the first half, and Price ran for his life in the onslaught of much quicker Duck defensive lineman.
Following the first Price debacle, Oregon needed just three plays to take the lead, starting from the Washington 38, which ended when LaMichael James scampered up the left side 18 yards for a disturbingly easy touchdown.
A quarter later it only took four plays starting at the UW 34, after Price duplicated his first quarter error in exactly the same way, lofting the ball high over the head of a bedaffled Jerome Kearse and into the hands of a by-himself Eddie Pleasant standing on Duck 17 yard line, which he promptly returned 49 yards.
Oregon didn’t need many offensive plays to lead by 14, but when the Huskies kept hanging around it was clear this game would have little similarity to the seven straight 20+ point blowouts that preceded it.
On the six plays where Price took what should have been normal time throwing the ball deep, patiently waiting for his receivers to run their routes, he was sacked badly. A dozen other plays had Price rushing to throw the ball, which didn’t allow for feet to be set long enough for a stable foundation. Hence the ball sailed high into wide open Ducks.
When Oregon started their drive from their own 30 yard line with 8:34 left in the third quarter, it was do or die time for the Huskies. Trailing by only seven, if they didn’t stop Oregon on this drive the game would be lost for good.
Oregon’s rickety quarterback Darron Thomas drilled David Paulso for 34 yards across the middle on the third play from scrimmage, and followed it with another to Josh Huff for 19 more yards. Two running plays later it was 31-17, and Husky fans were muttering in their frigid seats at the old dilapidated stadium. It was over. UW knew it and the hated Ducks knew it, especially when the next Washington drive stalled at mid-field with a confused and ugly 4th and 4.
Oregon had the ball and a big lead with only 3:40 left in the third quarter. But when a wide-open Daryle Hawkins dropped his third pass of the night at the five yard line, Oregon was forced to kick a field goal, which was certainly no gimmie considering how bad Duck kicker Alejandro Maldonado was. In fact 35 yards was his limit, and he barely managed to sneak it over to cross bar to give the Ducks a 34-17 lead with a buck 49 left in the third.
Things really got hopeless when little-used Husky Michael Hartvigson was stripped by Terrance Mitchell at the Husky 32 yard line in just two plays, but were bailed out by a couple of knucklehead Duck penalties, and an ugly pathetic miss by Maldonado from 46 yards, short and off-line to the right.
Still, by now Oregon had slowed down the offense, and were burning large chunks of time by running the clock down to the bare bones with each play. Sometimes Oregon would walk to the line and return to the huddle several times, just to drive everyone crazy with the trickery and confusion.
Never-used sophomore Nick Montana woke up the crowd with an impressive 53 yard strike to Kasen Williams down the right sideline to the Duck 27, but when a wide open Kevin Smith dropped a nice easy pass that hit him in the numbers as he stood alone in the end zone, the Husky faithful could tell it was not their night.
But it was the best game played against Oregon in a very long time, and if nothing else, the Ducks went away feeling a bit fortunate to have won so easily. It certainly wasn’t because they played well. The Ducks easily could have lost this game had the Huskies not been so sloppy and charitable, and by the time things wound down, Oregon could tell that this would be the last easy game for years to come.
The Huskies are still thin in only their third season since being terrible, have kept even with Oregon and the rest of the league with recruiting, and suddenly look like a team to be reckoned with starting in 2012. Especially since another set of Sark recruits will come rolling into town.
Oregon’s core are still only juniors, but stars such as Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are likely to bolt for greener pastures in the NFL, hence the chances of this Duck bunch staying together after this year is looking grim.
So while clueless Oregon fans were mouthing off on their way to the parking lot tonight, failing to appreciate that all streaks eventually end, the rest of the Husky faithful are recognizing this game for what it was. The Husky program is back and getting better each year. We know it. The Ducks know it even if they won’t admit it, and by this time next year the rest of the country will know it.
And with NCAA sanctions drifting in like eerily gray November clouds, this same Oregon squad will likely be moping come this time twelve months hence. The mini era of the Ducks dominating the Dawgs has likely seen it’s last chapter, as the men of Montlake return to their 1991 roots and tradition!