In the first three quarters on Saturday, the Washington Huskies scored 31 points in eight offensive drives. They went three-and-out once. They rushed for 120 yards and 4.6 yards per carry. Junior quarterback Jacob Eason completed 19 of 24 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns, completing 79.2% of his passes. They piled up 362 total yards, and three separate wide receivers scored. They systematically incinerated one of the nation’s top statistical defenses.
And, most importantly, they outscored No. 12 Oregon, 31-28.
Eason — the Georgia transfer, the Lake Stevens standout, the picturesque pro-style passer, the former five-star phenom and prospective first-round pick with a renowned right arm and enough hype to effectively fill Husky Stadium — was 15 minutes away from his signature win at Washington.
Instead, the offense stalled and the sellout crowd left stunned. No. 25 Washington fell to rival Oregon, 35-31.
“I think we played pretty well in the first half,” said UW senior center Nick Harris. “In the second half I don’t think we made enough plays to win the game. We came out of halftime, scored that touchdown. And after that we just didn’t make enough plays on offense.
“We just kind of hit a wall on offense, and you can’t do that with a team like that.”
In the fourth quarter, the Huskies scored zero points in three offensive drives. They went three-and-out twice. They rushed for 5 yards and 0.6 yards per carry. Eason completed 4 of 6 passes for 47 yards, and spun backward into a 12-yard sack. They managed 52 total yards on 14 plays and went 1 for 4 on third down.
They built a wall, brick by brick. Penalties were a brick. Poor play calls were a brick. Execution errors were a brick. They piled them up, from the turf to the rafters.
And then they ran right into the wall.
“Nope. No,” Harris said, when asked if Oregon’s defense made effective adjustments. “They didn’t change anything up. We didn’t finish when we needed to.”
The result was Washington’s third loss of the season, and second inside Husky Stadium. It was the Huskies’ second consecutive heartbreaking defeat to the rival Ducks as well — last year’s coming in a 30-27 overtime loss in Eugene.
The result was Eason sitting in the far corner of the interview room, his face stained with faded eye-black, staring dazed into the distance — empty.
“It’s a four-quarter ballgame,” Eason said in a near-whisper. “We’ve got to operate all four quarters, and we didn’t do that today. So we lost.”
And, yes, that’s an oversimplification. The wall, after all, can’t be built without dozens of individual bricks.
Take Washington’s second three-and-out of the fourth quarter, for example. On third-and-two from their own 28-yard line, offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan opted to run the wildcat with junior tailback Kamari Pleasant — whose previous two runs out of that formation went for a total of 2 yards.
Unsurprisingly, Pleasant was pummeled behind the line of scrimmage for a 2-yard loss, prompting another Husky punt.
“It’s been really successful for the entire year when you play the percentages,” Petersen said of the wildcat. “That’s why we called it.”
Added Harris: “(The Ducks) watch film, too. They know how to play certain looks. They did a good job versus that play.”
Or, let’s focus on Washington’s final offensive opportunity. On fourth-and-three from the Oregon 35-yard line with 54 seconds left, Eason missed freshman wide receiver Puka Nacua on a slant. Nacua went down before the ball ever arrived.
Should it have been defensive pass interference?
“What did it look like to you guys? You guys got a better vantage than me,” coach Chris Petersen said. “I think we know.”
Still, there can be no excuses. An uncalled penalty is not an excuse. The surprising injury absences of wide receiver Aaron Fuller and running back Sean McGrew are not an excuse. The confusing unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the opening kickoff — in which senior receiver Chico McClatcher caught a lateral pass from across the field and ran to the 45-yard line, but was penalized for laying down in the end zone early in the play — was not an excuse, either.
After all, the UW defense also allowed 434 total yards. Those can’t be explained away.
“They did a great job running the ball,” Petersen said. “We couldn’t get off blocks, and they were converting those third downs.”
In all, Oregon senior quarterback Justin Herbert completed 24 of 38 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns. Ducks running backs amassed 180 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry. They produced 21 points and 227 total yards in the second half.
In a 51-27 win over Arizona last week, Washington’s defense piled up four turnovers and four sacks.
The Huskies failed to force a turnover or notch a sack Saturday.
“That offensive line’s good. They’ve been doing it all season,” Petersen said. “That was another frustration for us, for sure. We could not get (to Herbert). We were mixing up blitzes and all those type of things. He bought time and did a great job. You can only cover for so long sometimes, and I thought our guys did a good job covering for the most part.”
But, given enough time, Herbert did damage.
And, given enough time, so did his defense.
That shouldn’t discount a number of impressive performances for the Huskies. Junior running back Salvon Ahmed rushed for 140 yards with 5.8 yards per carry and a touchdown. Wide receiver Jordan Chin scored his first career touchdown, while Nacua added a 33-yard score of his own.
But when it was over, Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, defensive tackle Jordon Scott and inside linebacker Troy Dye posed for pictures on the purple “W” at midfield. Their teammates celebrated with fans in a massive mob in the southeast corner of Husky Stadium.
UW’s offense dominated for three quarters. Oregon held an impromptu party on Montlake after the fourth.