SEATTLE — The old place made noise.
The press box shook.
Oregon players had trouble hearing.
For the longest while Saturday night, it appeared Washington might be capable of an upset in the last game played in Husky Stadium As We Know It.
For the longest while, it felt like this long-standing border-state rivalry was just that again — a real rivalry.
Then, as surely as work crews will dismantle the Montlake Monstrosity in the months ahead, the Ducks reaffirmed what has been a given for some time now: Washington still has a ways to go to catch up with Oregon on the football field.
The 34-17 final score was reflective of that. So was the fact it was Oregon’s eighth-straight win in a series going back to 1910. For the record, the average margin of victory in that streak is a whopping 25.2 points a game. Saturday’s margin — while the lowest over the eight games — did little to dent that.
But a better barometer of the state of the two programs was what transpired in combat on the field. During the ebb and flow that was this Pac-12 North Division game, it was clear the Ducks are more athletic and faster, and, from the looks of it, better coached.
Simply put, these Huskies were overmatched.
Indeed, the score could have been — probably should have been — much worse. Leading 31-17, the Ducks came away with only three points after getting inside the 20 late in the third quarter. On the next series, a fumble recovery led to a golden opportunity once more inside the 20, but the Ducks faltered and came up empty. Similar misfires occurred in the first half, which ended with Oregon clinging to a precarious 17-10 advantage.
If the game had been played in Eugene, all things considered, it likely would have been a rout — a frightful thought for any of the Husky faithful.
That’s not to say Washington is bad or on a downward trend, like they were a few years ago when they floundered for several seasons with abysmal play. Far from it. The Huskies are on the rise, though a measured one at that. There should be no doubt — even for Duck fans who loathe the color purple — that UW coach Steve Sarkisian has brought the once-proud program back to respectability.
But Washington (6-3 overall, 4-2 in the Pac-12) is not close to No. 6-ranked Oregon (8-1, 6-0). Not yet.
The gap still remains wide, very wide. And on both sides of the ball.
Heading into Saturday’s showdown, the last in Husky Stadium before it undergoes a two-year renovation, most pundits were expecting a shootout. Through its first eight games, Washington’s offense had shown signs of brilliance, averaging 35.2 points a game, behind quarterback Keith Price and star running back Chris Polk. The Ducks, meanwhile, were up to their usual ways, averaging 47.5 points per game, third best in the nation.
Though Oregon wore uniforms of silver, gray and white, with a dash of green — looking a bit like the old Oakland Raiders — they were so out of sync offensively during the first half that one would have thought the much-maligned Husky defenders had been recast as the Marauders of Montlake. Or some such thing.
That changed in the second half as Oregon finally got untracked. By game’s end, LaMichael James had generated 156 yards on the ground on 25 carries. De’Anthony Thomas had scored on a short TD run and nearly returned a kickoff the distance. Tight end David Paulson and wide receiver Josh Huff enjoyed impressive nights. And, perhaps most importantly, quarterback Darron Thomas seemed to finally have found his rhythm in his second game back from a knee injury.
But it was the Oregon defense that stole the night, outperforming what was billed as an athletic Husky offense. The Ducks sacked Price six times and picked him off twice, bottled up Polk to the tune of just 80 yards on the ground on 24 carries, held on a crucial 4th-and-4 late in the third quarter, and generally showed they were faster and quicker than their Washington counterparts. For the game, UW had only 278 total yards.
“My hat’s off to my defensive coaches,” said Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti afterwards. “I’m a lucky man because they make me look good.”
As such, the UW offensive performance was about as revealing as the rusty pipes and peeling paint in Husky Stadium.
Washington fans had pumped up the Oregon game as something akin to the Last Crusade. Legendary UW coach Don James and the 1991 national championship team were on hand. It was senior night. Buttons were handed out at the gates that read, “1920-2011 Mighty are the Memories.” If someone had parted Lake Washington moments before game time, it may not have surprised the vast majority.
Compared to the last two Oregon visits to Husky Stadium, the animosity meter was up a couple notches, or four or five, undoubtedly fueled by the stadium hoopla but also by some in the media who had boldly predicted a stunning UW upset. An hour before kickoff, Oregon’s kickers and snappers were getting booed.
With the final seconds ticking off and the home crowd bolting for the exits, however, it was apparent the ‘Return to Greatness,’ as Husky fans like to refer to their charge, is still a ways off.
If they needed any reminder, all they had to do was listen to the chant of the Oregon fans in the west end zone.
“This is our house!”
Hopefully, someone remembered to turn off the lights.
Oregon’s eight-game win streak over UW
2004: At Oregon 31, Washington 6
2005: At Oregon 45, Washington 21
2006: At Oregon 34, Washington 14
2007: Oregon 55, at Washington 34
2008: At Oregon 44, Washington 10
2009: Oregon 43, at Washington 19
2010: At Oregon 53, Washington 16
2011: Oregon 34, at Washington 17