As great as the Oregon offense played against the Washington Huskies, the defense played just as big of a role in the Ducks’ 45-24 victory in Seattle on Saturday. If they eliminated a couple of big runs by Washington running back Bishop Sankey in the third quarter, this game might have never been close.
“Our mindset was just to stop big plays,” Ducks linebacker Boseko Lokombo said. “Everybody today did their job and at the end of the day we got the W, so we’re happy.”
Lokombo made it clear that he wasn’t entirely happy with the defense’s performance because of those big plays they allowed in the third quarter. Sankey ran for two touchdowns, the first from 60 yards and the second from 25. Oregon gave up 17 points that quarter, more than twice as much as they gave up the rest of the game.
“[Washington quarterback Keith] Price, he had some big plays, too,” Lokombo said. “Things like that we’re going to have to learn from and execute.”
With the score 31-24 in favor of Oregon going into the fourth quarter, limiting big plays was especially vital for the Ducks. They delivered, shutting down Sankey and putting pressure on Price in what felt like every pass play.
“You’ve got to turn it up a little bit in the fourth because that’s when it gets serious,” Ducks cornerback Terrance Mitchell said.
Lokombo, Tony Washington and DeForest Buckner were three of several Ducks defensive players who hit Price hard on pass plays, which likely contributed to Price’s pedestrian day (182 passing yards, 59 percent completion rate, one touchdown, one interception, 18 yards rushing). In fact, Buckner slammed Price to the ground on Price’s only interception which Erick Dargan picked off.
The Ducks’s secondary was especially solid. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu made several impressive open-field tackles and blanketed every receiver he covered. Same with Mitchell. When Price did scramble for some positive yardage, they almost always came after he went through his throwing progressions, only to find the passing windows completely shut.
“We got competitive out there, back and forth with words and what not,” Washington wide receiver Kevin Smith said regarding the Oregon secondary. “They are good.”
Washington center Mike Criste said similar things about the Ducks defensive line.
“They were a good challenge,” Criste said. “We felt strong up front, too. They got the better of us a few times, there is no escaping that.”
The Ducks undoubtedly won because of solid play in every facet. They gained 631 yards on offense without turning the ball over, and their special teams played exceptionally well. But the defense might have been even more important, especially early when the offense was trying to find its groove. Overall, the defense gave up just 376 yards to an elite offense and forced two turnovers (Dargan’s interception and a fumble recovery by Torrodney Prevot recovery).
While the Oregon offense deserves all the attention it gets, the other side of the ball showed that it isn’t too far behind. In fact, the defense might be an equal strength.