UW needs to win its final three games to be bowl eligible.

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EUGENE, Ore. — For a few glorious moments in what turned into a 53-16 defeat Saturday, the Washington Huskies were hanging with the No. 1-ranked Oregon Ducks, an effort that even drew a few kudos from the home fans.

“We were on the sideline and they were telling us ‘Good job,’ ” said Huskies linebacker Cort Dennison. “I’ve never heard that from an opposing crowd — especially at Oregon, where we’re used to just having mean things said to us. But they were complimenting us on the sidelines.”

In fact, UW became the first team all season to hold the Ducks scoreless in the first quarter, and were within five points early in the third quarter.

But despite an effort that the Huskies said allowed them to leave Autzen Stadium with heads held high, the game eventually turned into the expected rout in front of 60,017.

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It was Oregon’s seventh straight win against Washington, all by 20 or more points, and was the largest margin of victory in the series for Oregon since a 58-0 Ducks win in 1973.

The loss drops the Huskies’ record to 3-6 and means they have to win their last three games to finish .500 and get to a bowl. And it came in the first start for freshman Keith Price at quarterback in place of the injured Jake Locker, an early-week switch that caused the point spread to skyrocket.

Price played credibly enough, not committing a turnover and completing 14 of 28 passes — with at least four dropped — for 127 yards and a touchdown, while deftly scrambling away from pressure a few other times.

And when he threw a 17-yard touchdown to D’Andre Goodwin early in the third quarter following an Oregon fumble to draw UW within 18-13, Huskies fans momentarily were allowed to dream the unthinkable.

So were the UW players, with tailback Chris Polk saying the feeling on the sideline “was electric, because we’re stopping them, making plays, moving the ball. Because everyone expected them to have 70 on us. So we were really into it.”

But a seasonlong special-teams bugaboo again reared its head as Oregon returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to set up a quick touchdown, and the Ducks were finally off and running,

“That really took a lot of wind out of our sails, which is unfortunate,” said Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian. “It really spun the game back in their favor and got their mojo going. And when they got rolling, they were hard to stop.”

Indeed, the Ducks scored 50 points in the last 35 minutes, 13 seconds and outscored Washington 35-3 in the last 27:10.

And it all prompted a question: Are the Ducks just that much better than the Huskies right now?

“No, they are not that much better,” Polk insisted. “We just need to trade our field goals for touchdowns and just concentrate on our assignments and not try to do too much. Quite frankly, the game should have been closer than it was, but it doesn’t always go in your favor.”

Running away with games at the end, however, is what the Ducks and their no-huddle offense have done all season, having now outscored foes 215-48 in the second half.

“We were exhausted,” said Sarkisian of his defense. “We didn’t help them offensively. We couldn’t sustain drives on offense to give our defense a rest. The game got in their control the way they like it, where they can go fast and wear you out.”

Indeed, while Washington mounted a few drives, it couldn’t move consistently, converting just 2 of 16 third downs and getting outgained 257-72 in the second half.

Oregon had an 80-yard kickoff return and 79-yard punt return to set up scores, as well as a 47-yard kickoff return to boot.

Sarkisian said the way the game went late vividly illustrated Oregon’s depth, which he said is a key difference between the two teams.

“They’re an extremely deep football team in all three phases,” he said of the Ducks. “I think that’s why they’re so good. They’re playing on special teams with a high-level athlete as well as offense and defense, and they’re fresh. They’re rolling guys through and they’re staying fresh.”

Indeed, the Ducks seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, able to overcome some early sloppiness. A few ill-timed penalties and dropped passes helped keep the game scoreless in the first quarter, and it was tied 3-3 until the 5:13 mark of the second quarter when Oregon finally scored to go ahead for good.

Ultimately, it wasn’t close. But after the 41-0 debacle against Stanford of last week, the Huskies left Eugene feeling a little better, confident they can still win their last three games and get to a bowl.

“I knew we had a belief in us, and even though the score wasn’t what we wanted, I knew we would come out and compete and give it our all,” said Dennison. “And that’s what we did today.”

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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