In the final minutes of a game that began as a marvelous showcase of the Washington football program, the home crowd — fittingly clad in black — stood silent or stood to exit, and the only discernible noise at Husky Stadium erupted from a raucous rival’s section.
First, “Let’s go, Ducks!” chants filled the stadium.
Then the Oregon fans went for the humiliation jugular.
“Ten more years! Ten more years! Ten more years!”
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Another Oregon game, another Washington shame. The Ducks’ dominance over the Huskies has now reached a decade, 10 consecutive victories by an average margin of 25.4 points.
This time, the final score was 45-24, ruining a day in which the nation took its longest look at the Huskies in quite a while. ESPN’s “College GameDay” held its pregame show in Seattle for the first time, and crazy fun was had by all despite an early wake-up call. Playing in their snazzy renovated stadium, the No. 16 Huskies were set up to announce their re-emergence as a college football power and pluck nine years of Duck feathers from their psyche, too.
But there was one problem with this narrative: They actually had to beat the Ducks. Which is only the most difficult thing the Huskies have attempted to do the past decade.
Washington was ready this time. Best team in a decade. Biggest stage. No De’Anthony Thomas. It didn’t matter. Oregon is still the Huskies’ worst matchup.
“That is a good football team,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said of the second-ranked Ducks. “Their ranking is deservedly so.”
The coach had to begin his postgame remarks by lauding Oregon. This game was a 60-minute essay on why the Ducks are so good. The Huskies made their mistakes — two turnovers, one missed red-zone opportunity, missed tackles and blown coverages — but they didn’t play poorly. They didn’t appear inferior to Oregon by a 21-point margin. Still, they lost by that many.
‘It’s extremely frustrating,” defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said.
Once again, Oregon feasted on every little Husky mistake. Bishop Sankey, who rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns, fumbled in the second quarter with the Huskies driving deep into Oregon territory. The Ducks turned that into a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead. The turnover could be viewed as a 10- or 14-point swing.
For a team that plays at such a breakneck pace, the Ducks beat the Huskies consistently with their efficiency. They don’t make the momentum-changing mistakes that the Huskies often capitalize on. During every critical situation, quarterback Marcus Mariota made a big play, throwing to wide-open receivers and zipping through a Washington defense that couldn’t handle his speed.
“Every play matters,” linebacker John Timu said. “You can’t take plays off against these guys. We were one play from tying the game or taking the lead, and every time, they made that play.”
Instead of getting back into the game in the third quarter, the Huskies traded points too often. Sankey scored a 60-yard touchdown run on fourth down, and then Mariota threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Josh Huff. It’s impossible to come back against a team that gains 631 offensive yards.
At the end of the third quarter, with the Ducks clinging to a 31-24 game, it felt like the making of a dramatic fourth quarter. Oregon is sly that way. You think you’re keeping up with the Ducks, but they’re like a sprinter with an incredible finishing kick. Oregon outgained the Huskies 161-20 in the fourth quarter and added two Mariota touchdowns to turn a competitive game into a blowout.
“We need to continue to fight the mental fatigue,” Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said.
Asked what he admires most about Oregon, Timu said: “They don’t panic.”
No, they don’t. The Ducks just keep winning. They’ve won 18 straight road games, and this triumph in new Husky Stadium must rank among the most impressive. They win at full strength, and they win with star players missing. They win with their feared running game, and they win with Mariota picking apart defenses with deft passes. They win with their famous turbo offense, and they win with an underrated, aggressive defense.
And for 10 straight years now, they win whenever they play the Huskies.
Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly turned the cliché “Win the day” into a mantra for the football program. Now, just for the Huskies, the Ducks have a new phrase: “Win the decade.”
And though the Huskies have improved gradually in five years under Sarkisian, the gap between the two programs remains considerable.
“We’ve gotten closer,” Washington fifth-year senior quarterback Keith Price said. “We lost to them 34-17 my sophomore year, and this one, it felt closer than my sophomore year. The score didn’t indicate the game. I can honestly say that we made them respect us. But they’re just a very good team.”
And a very persistent headache.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer