Oregon football is renowned for its flashy, innovative approach to offense. On Saturday against Washington, the Ducks simplified their tactics, electing for an efficient, dumbed-down attack that was enough to put away the resilient hometown Huskies 34-17.
All-American running back LaMichael James (25 carries, 156 yards) looked to be back in full form and put Oregon on top early in the first quarter with an 18-yard touchdown run following an interception by safety Eddie Pleasant. Both the Huskies and Ducks tacked on field goals later in the first period to make the score 10-3.
In the second quarter, the Ducks gained possession in Husky territory after Pleasant intercepted Washington quarterback Keith Price for the second time in the half. This time Pleasant returned the ball 50 yards to the Washington 34-yard line, and four plays later Oregon scored on a four-yard pass from Darron Thomas to tight end David Paulson.
“We just try to disguise (coverages) a little bit,” said Pleasant. “We did some new disguises, and they worked. (Price) thought the cornerbacks were in one-on-one coverage, and I was over the top.”
Washington responded with a 12-play, 49-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes of the clock. Price finished the possession by throwing a one-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Michael Hartvigson with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Oregon then took the ball back and drove deep into opposing territory before Alejandro Maldonado flubbed a 45-yard field goal, making the score 17-10 in favor of Oregon at the half.
The Ducks only led by a touchdown at intermission but came out in the third quarter with a renewed sense of purpose and improved offensive rhythm. They opened the third period with a 12-play, 90-yard drive capped by a one-yard scoring dash by backup running back Kenjon Barner.
“(That drive) was big,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “And that’s what we talked about at halftime, is that we we’re up seven, (but) they’ve got momentum because they scored late. And that always happens. Whoever scores late in second quarter, it looks like they have momentum.”
With Oregon threatening to run away, Washington then took the ball on offense and put together its most impressive drive of the game, advancing 75 yards in nine plays. Price ended the possession with a 10-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Kasen Williams that brought the Huskies within seven points of the Ducks. However, that score early in the third quarter would prove to be the final points of the night for the home team in its last game at Husky Stadium.
Oregon regained complete control of the game with a momentous drive of its own. The Ducks traveled 70 yards in six plays, this time finding the end zone on a nine-yard rush by freshman standout De’Anthony Thomas. That touchdown made the score 31-17 and gave a swarming Oregon defense all the support it would need to pull out the win against a bitter northwestern rival.
“It seemed like they kind of milked the clock in the first half,” quarterback Darron Thomas said. “In the second half we got into a rhythm and made the adjustments and just came out and finished everything.”
Oregon’s defense pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter to help the Ducks cruise to victory. The Ducks got constant pressure on Price, racking up six sacks and forcing questionable throws in multiple instances.
“I don’t think (Price) was jittery,” Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “(Not staring down receivers) was a big coaching point going into the game for Keith. They’ve got two really savvy safeties back there in John Boyett and Pleasant. They do a nice job of reading the quarterback’s eyes.”
While Oregon’s secondary picked up a couple key penalties during the game, it did a commendable job harassing Washington’s receivers. In total, Oregon’s defensive backs forced three turnovers, including a strip by cornerback Terrance Mitchell that took the crowd out of the game in the third quarter.
Oregon’s defense was also tremendously successful in containing Washington running back Chris Polk. Coming off a five-touchdown performance against Arizona last weekend, Polk was held to 80 yards rushing on 24 carries and didn’t score on the night.
“That’s a good running back,” said Oregon linebacker Josh Kaddu, who had four tackles (including one sack) on the night. “He runs hard, he’s hard to take down. Everybody was flying to the ball to take him down. He’s a good running back, and I felt we did a pretty good job on him.”
“I think our guys did a good job of tackling,” Kelly said. “And that’s the one thing with (Polk), when you watch him on tape is that he’s such a strong runner that he can run through and he gets a lot of yards after contact.”
With Washington in the rear view mirror, Oregon is now ready to head back to Eugene and turn their focus to a matchup next Saturday against No. 3 Stanford.
“I just care that we won 34-17 today,” said Kelly. “And we’re real happy about it. I told those guys I was so happy about their performance I’m going to give them an extra hour of sleep tonight.”