This was bad. On a night the new Washington Huskies were set to debut, the same old, outclassed, in-over-their-helmets Huskies took the...
EUGENE, Ore. — This was bad.
On a night the new Washington Huskies were set to debut, the same old, outclassed, in-over-their-helmets Huskies took the field against Oregon and dropped a 44-10 humiliation atop their hope for change.
This was perplexing.
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From opening the game in a 3-3-5 defensive alignment to showing little offensive execution or cunning, the Huskies played without purpose, without verve, without edge.
This was infuriating.
With eight months to prepare for this game, with a full understanding of the stakes for this season, the Huskies watched Oregon backup quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a fourth-stringer two weeks ago, a member of the City College of San Francisco four months ago, throw two touchdown passes.
This performance couldn’t have been any poorer for a team that has spent months declaring it would be different. This coaching effort couldn’t have been more damaging for Tyrone Willingham. This season opener will turn into open season on Willingham.
What do you tell your team after such a thorough disappointment? Willingham opted for the one strand of optimism available: that there will be a tomorrow. His allotment of tomorrows continues to shrink, so he’s certain to be thankful for this one.
“I told them there was a better team in the locker room than we showed on the field,” Willingham said. “We do believe we can run the football. We do believe we can pass the football. We believe we can tackle better.”
That pretty much covers it all. The Huskies were awful in every facet of the game Saturday night at Autzen Stadium, which gives the coach’s detractors even more ammunition. The Huskies looked harried on the field, and for the umpteenth time in the Willingham era, they played a horrible second half. Even as Oregon shuffled through three quarterbacks and remade their offensive line following left tackle Fenuki Tupou’s suspension, the Ducks embarrassed the Huskies.
From the beginning, UW wasn’t ready for this one. At the start, it seemed as if the Huskies had only spent the offseason trying to sleep off last year. The way they started this game, you would’ve sworn they awoke Saturday morning, realized there was a game and scurried just to find their cleats and shoulder pads, let alone their playbooks.
Oregon led 14-0 before you even realized what defense new coordinator Ed Donatell was employing. The Huskies came out in a 3-3-5 alignment, hoping to limit the Ducks’ big plays, but the six-man defensive front could not limit Oregon’s running game early, and it also failed to accomplish its primary objective.
The Huskies enjoyed a short-lived rally, spurred by quarterback Jake Locker’s improvisational skills, but the offense was largely ineffective. Unable to run inside against the Oregon defensive line — considered the Ducks’ weakness — Washington sputtered.
“We didn’t see this coming,” offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said.
Before the season, Locker stated a goal of completing 65 percent of his passes this season. He misfired on his first six attempts in this game and finished only 12 of 28 (42.9 percent).
Before the season, the Huskies spoke of the game-breaking skills of freshman Chris Polk. He ran 14 times for 19 yards in his debut.
Before the season, the Huskies figured they could counter inexperience with talent at wide receiver. Throughout the game, those young receivers struggled to get open against Oregon’s talented secondary.
“I don’t know what happened,” Polk said. “We just didn’t expect to play like this.”
Washington wasn’t solid enough to beat a top-20 team on the road. We shouldn’t make too many statements because this was only the opener, because there are 11 games remaining, but we’ve seen some of this before. We’ve seen too much of this before.
After UW responded to make the score 14-10 at halftime, it seemed like the Huskies had a prime upset opportunity. But, no. Even though the Ducks allowed them back into the game, even though Justin Roper, their starting quarterback, sat out the entire second half with a concussion, the Huskies fell apart.
“We’ve got to grow,” Willingham said. “There’s no area we can feel comfortable about right now.”
It’s a sad statement because the hype was that, if nothing else, the Huskies would be a better product, a more fiery squad, the kind of young team that could inspire hope.
Instead, it’s Labor Day weekend, and Willingham is already back in that old, tiring state — survival mode. This time, however, he’s down to his last life.