Washington football roster included 24 freshmen who went to Oregon — more than a third of its 64-player traveling roster. Two freshmen, Chris Polk and Kavario Middleton, started the game.
EUGENE, Ore. — Washington coaches, many of them with long histories in college football, have almost universally said this is one of the youngest teams they have ever been around.
When the Huskies released their official travel roster before the game Saturday, the numbers bore that out.
Of the 64 players on the travel roster — the maximum allowed for a Pac-10 game — more than a third, 24 to be exact, were true or redshirt freshmen making their college-football debut.
Of those 24, 10 are true freshmen, meaning they are in their first year of college.
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Nine of those players are members of the Class of 2008, regarded as one of UW’s best crop of recruits in some time.
Two of the true freshmen ended up starting — Chris Polk and Kavario Middleton. Senio Kelemete, listed as a starter during the week, did not start as the Huskies opened with an unconventional defense with three safeties and three down linemen.
Middleton was one of UW’s most consistent offensive threats with four catches for 35 yards. But Polk was held to just 19 yards on 14 carries with a long run of five.
Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said it was hard to assess Polk’s day because “it didn’t look like there was anywhere to go.”
Of Middleton, he said: “He was a real bright spot for us. He’s a big weapon for us over the middle and made some real nice plays and caught the ball with his hands. He played well for a first game.”
Middleton said later he found out he was starting Saturday after a morning meeting.
Middleton was listed as the No. 3 tight end on the depth chart this week, but starter Michael Gottlieb didn’t make the trip due to a hamstring injury, and backup Walt Winter is a little-used senior.
Of those who didn’t make the travel list, the most noteworthy might have been receiver Anthony Boyles, like Aguilar, a member of the Class of 2007 who sat out last season due to academic issues. He was one of the most highly regarded members of that class and projected by many to make an immediate impact. But he admitted early in fall camp he had struggled at times to master the playbook and he wasn’t on the first or second team released earlier in the week.
One of the things Washington tried so hard to keep secret during camp was apparent early — a new-look defense that featured three down linemen, three linebackers, three safeties and two cornerbacks.
Essentially, UW replaced defensive tackle Kelemete, a true freshman who had been listed as a starter, with safety Tripper Johnson.
New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said the look may be used again this season but that was in put in place, in part, for this game.
“It’s something we could possibly use during the year, but we looked at our personnel and what we had available during the game — we had a lot of young guys playing [on the line] and we don’t have play them quite as much with a three-down look,” Donatell said.
The Huskies later reverted to a more conventional 4-3 defense and used both throughout the game.
“We gave them both looks, it just didn’t play out the way we wanted it to,” he said. “I’m not going to make excuses. We intended to come down here and win the football game and we didn’t do it.”
Oregon QB carousel
Oregon’s quarterback carousel of 2007 carried over to the first game of 2008, with three players taking snaps on Saturday.
Sophomore Justin Roper started against the Huskies but left midway through second quarter with a concussion and didn’t return, making him the fourth Oregon starting quarterback to go down with injury in the last five games.
In came Jeremiah Masoli, a junior college transfer who led City College of San Francisco to the national championship last season.
Masoli threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and for 126 yards overall. He also split time with true freshman Chris Harper in the second half. Harper ran for 60 yards and a touchdown and didn’t attempt a pass.
Roper went from fifth-stringer to Sun Bowl starter last season after injuries decimated the Ducks’ quarterback ranks.
It appeared he was losing the battle for the starting job to sophomore Nate Costa during fall camp before Costa injured his knee Aug. 20.
Even though Jake Locker failed to put up the same numbers Saturday as he did against the Ducks last season when he threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns, Oregon’s players still walked away impressed with the sophomore quarterback.
“He still made some yards on broken plays, but when you’re as talented as he is, that is going to happen,” Oregon defensive tackle Cole Linehan said. “He creates things. He makes something out of nothing. He’s a great player.”
Said defensive end Nick Reed, “I saw him making passes I don’t think he would have made last year.”
The goal going into the game for the Ducks defense was single-minded.
“Shut down Locker,” Reed said. “We knew that he was their big threat, and he was. He did well but the defense just did better. We contained him and flew around and played fast like we’re supposed to. It was a great game.”
• Family and friends of the late Todd Doxey stood in the west end zone and watched an emotional video tribute during a pre-game ceremony at Autzen Stadium. Doxey, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman from San Diego, drowned July 13 in McKenzie River near Eugene. Oregon players knelt during the ceremony, and the crowd observed a moment of silence. About a dozen of Doxey’s family and friends traveled from California for the game, most wearing Doxey’s No. 29. Senior Patrick Chung wore No. 29 during the game, instead of his usual No. 15, and the Ducks wore a decal with Doxey’s number and initials on their helmets.
• The Ducks played without starting left tackle Fenuki Tupou, who was suspended for the opener for violating team eligibility bylaws. Thus, the Ducks moved all-league center Max Unger to left tackle where he played opposite Washington defensive end Daniel Te’o Nesheim. The two players were former teammates at Hawaii Prep Academy. Te’o-Nesheim recorded four tackles, while Unger was flagged once in the second quarter for holding Te’o-Nesheim.
• Among those not making the trip were senior CB Byron Davenport (ankle) and senior safety Jason Wells (knee), each of whom dealt with injuries.
• Washington’s captains were Locker, Juan Garcia, Donald Butler and Te’o-Nesheim. UW selects captains for each game, and then names captains for the season at the end of the year.
• Garcia, back in the lineup after a Lisfranc injury suffered in the spring, played almost the entire game.
• The Ducks scored their final TD with 46 seconds left, using a no-huddle offense to drive down the field. But UW coach Tyrone Willingham said he didn’t take offense. “I think they were consistent all day in how they ran their offense,” he said. “There wasn’t a deviation from the beginning of the game to the end.”
Times freelancer Chris Hansen contributed to this notebook.