As the University of Washington heads into its first bye week of the 2009 season, this campaign is beginning to look more and more like seasons of recent past.
Another blowout loss to Oregon on Saturday afternoon — the 43-19 defeat marked the sixth straight time UW has lost by at least 20 points in the interstate rivalry — has left the Huskies (3-5 overall, 2-3 in the Pac-10) out of the running for a conference title and on the verge of missing out on a bowl game for the seventh consecutive year.
“Our goals are still there,” running back Chris Polk said after the Huskies lost their second consecutive game and fourth in five tries. “We've just got to get refocused and don't give up on ourselves. We have to keep grinding it out because we still have three games left. We can still make something great of the season.”
While Saturday's result was becoming a familiar storyline, this time there would be no nail-biting finish. The Ducks made sure of that by the opening minutes of the second half.
In a game that looked somewhat competitive on the statistics sheet — the Ducks' 416 total yards were only 21 more than UW's total — the drama lasted only into the early part of the third quarter. Oregon (5-1, 4-0) scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions of the second half, building a 36-6 lead on LaMichael James's 5-yard run with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter.
Up to that point, the Ducks had put on the kind of beating that has become all too familiar in this rivalry.
“We hate everything about them, so it's real hard,” said Polk, who had 104 rushing yards in the loss. “But that's just the way things go. It's the ups and downs of football.”
The Huskies had their chances early in the game and actually led after one quarter. But the game began to tilt in Oregon's favor when Ducks receiver Rory Cavaille blocked a Will Mahan punt and teammate Tyrell Irvin recovered the loose ball in the end zone early in the second quarter. The Ducks followed that with a 2-point conversion, taking advantage of the Huskies' inability to get all 11 players on the field, and Oregon had an 8-3 lead.
UW drove all the way to the Ducks' 2-yard line on the next possession, but a Jake Locker interception on fourth down ended that threat.
“When you turn the ball over in the red zone,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who later watched the Ducks intercept a long Locker pass at the 4-yard line, “it's like turning it over twice.”
An 80-yard touchdown drive on the Ducks' final possession of the first half — thanks in large part to a 32-yard middle screen on third-and-25 — extended that lead to 15-3, and UW saw the game start to really slip away shortly after halftime.
Oregon's first drive of the second half took only three plays and 50 seconds, resulting in a 3-yard touchdown run from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who had 85 rushing yards despite playing on a tender knee.
A 96-yard touchdown drive extended the lead to 29-6, and when the Huskies' Polk fumbled on the next UW possession, the writing was on the wall. Two plays later, Oregon was in the end zone again and looking at a 30-point lead.
“I felt like right when I fumbled, that's when it started to slip away,” Polk said. “I blame myself; it's on me.”
The Ducks had 196 of their 416 total yards during the third quarter, which consisted of three scoring drives. Most of that yardage — 112 yards — came on a single drive that started at the Oregon 4-yard line and included two Ducks penalties.
After a relatively meaningless fourth quarter, the scene at Husky Stadium was all too familiar. Several Ducks players ran toward the stands on the west side of the stadium and celebrated with thousands of Oregon fans.
“You always want to protect your home field,” UW receiver Jermaine Kearse said afterward. “It hurts, but we've just got to move on and correct our mistakes.”
The Ducks have plenty of reason to celebrate, and this Saturday's game against USC could go a long way toward Oregon's chances of going to the Rose Bowl.
The Huskies, meanwhile, may have to re-adjust their goals. A Pac-10 title is all but impossible now, while a trip to any kind of a bowl game would take three wins in the final four games.
“I hesitate to say, ‘Man, we're not good. It's going to take us longer than we thought,'” Sarkisian said afterward, as some of his team's season goals appeared on the verge of slipping away. “I still think we're a dang good football team. There are opportunities for us to continue to grow.”
As steep as the uphill climb looks now, the Huskies aren't giving up on another season that has started to slip away.
“The last thing I want to see is the morale of the football team go down, the ‘woe-is-me, here-we-go-again,'” Sarkisian said. “That's not the mentality of our football team. We've got a fighter's mentality, and that's a great thing to have that we can build from.”
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