I woke up Sunday morning, quickly grabbed my phone, and immediately brought up my ESPN app. I went to the college football section to check the Top 25 scores only to discover that the nightmare I had experienced on Saturday evening was in fact a harsh reality.
Washington 37, Oregon 34.
I was texting my Husky cousin in Seattle during the game. She conceded that Oregon was the better team, but this was just Washington’s night. I tend to agree with that. The Ducks are the better team, but a combination of dumb penalties, turnovers, poor coaching decisions, and simply not bringing their A-game doomed the Ducks. While you could say it was the “Huskies’ night,” it clearly was not the Ducks’ night.
This was a frustrating loss because the Ducks “should” have won. Some observations as to why the Ducks did not, in no particular order:
Goal Line Fumble
The Ducks got way too cute in lining up in a wacky formation with only three linemen and the tackles out wide with the receivers. The problem is they broke the huddle with under 15 seconds on the play clock, and by the time everybody shifted and got reset into a “normal” formation, Nix had to hurry the snap and was not completely set to get the play off in time.
The whole time all this “razzle dazzle” and of formation was occurring I was yelling at the TV, “You gotta hurry up! We’re not gonna get the play off in time!” Well, the Ducks did get it off in time, and promptly fumbled the snap and gave Washington the ball. And make no mistake, the whole stupid formation shifting was to blame.
No doubt Washington and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. have the most potent passing attack the Ducks had faced all season. Penix puts an NFL-level zip on the ball that Oregon defenders surely were not prepared for. But, still, the pass defense was sorely lacking. Penix set a Husky record for passing yards against the Ducks with 408 yards. The Ducks gave up two long bombs in the second half for touchdowns of 76 and 62 yards. The game-tying 62-yarder late in the fourth quarter was the biggest backbreaker.
I am going with “feel” in this observation. While Bo Nix put up a decent stat line (19 of 27, 280 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) and there were some big plays, it just felt like the Oregon pass game was not nearly as effective as it has been all season. The run was working, but it seems the run set up the pass well in certain situations and it was not taken advantage of. The short and intermediate pass game was absent. There was only one completion to a tight end for four yards.
Getting Nix Hurt
Nix has had a lot of success running the ball this year and the Ducks have been fortunate that he has not been hurt earlier in the season. But, the short-term gains of over running the quarterback come with the potential long-term price of getting your star quarterback hurt and missing some serious time. Remember, in 2017 when Willie Taggart kept running Justin Herbert up the middle to take on linebackers and strong safeties? Herbert finally got hurt and it ruined the Ducks’ season.
I’m all for running the quarterback, but it has to be with plays designed so the quarterback has a very high chance of being able to slide. Things are never going to go perfectly; the quarterback will get hit on occasion no matter what, but the plays must be designed with safety in mind.
Running up the gut like a fullback to take on the heart of the defense are not plays designed with quarterback safety in mind. After getting hurt, Nix was out the next series in which the Ducks turned the ball over on downs with Ty Thompson in the game. If Nix was not on the sideline, who knows, the Ducks might have scored a touchdown.
I like to think that I am a positive person. But, everything in my heart, soul, and gut told me that the Ducks were not going to convert on the fourth-and-one late in the fourth quarter that ended up giving the Huskies the game. Nix was hurt, Thompson was in, and the vibe just did not feel right. Not to mention, the Ducks were at their own 34 yard-line! My Oregon friends all agreed. I think the Huskies knew that coming in cold that Thompson was no threat to pass, so they could key on the run. And of course when Noah Whittington slipped, my heart simply jumped out of my throat.
This was a poor decision by Dan Lanning. My opinion is not second-guessing — I thought the Ducks should have punted from the moment it became fourth down. Was Lanning taken by ego? Emotion? The crowd? Was he thinking with the wrong part of his body? Who knows. The Ducks have had a lot of success on fourth down this season, but that was the gamble of all gambles. I know Lanning did not trust his defense. But, it just did not feel right, the karma was not on the Ducks’ side on that play.
The Huskies now hold the all-time series lead 61-48 over the Ducks. Before the game on Saturday, I was texting my Oregon friends and letting them know that Washington now only has a 60-48 series advantage after the Ducks had won 20 of the past 26 contests. I posed this question to the group of a dozen 50-ish-year-olds, “Can we catch them in our lifetime?”
“Hell yeah!” was the typical response. As we were more than confident that the Ducks were going to make it 60-49. But, it was not meant to be.
Well, friends, eat healthy, exercise, take your vitamins, and get your colonoscopies; we are going to have to live a little bit longer if we are going to catch those dastardly Huskies in our lifetime.
Top photo credit: Eugene Johnson
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.
Darren Perkins is a sales professional and 1997 Oregon graduate. After finishing school, he escaped the rain and moved to sunny Southern California where he studied screenwriting for two years at UCLA. Darren grew up in Eugene and in 1980, at the tender age of five, he attended his first Oregon football game. His lasting memory from that experience was an enthusiastic Don Essig announcing to the crowd: “Reggie Ogburn, completes a pass to… Reggie Ogburn.” Captivated by such a thrilling play, Darren’s been hooked on Oregon football ever since. Currently living in Spokane, Darren enjoys flaunting his yellow and green superiority complex over friends and family in Cougar country.
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