By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon’s LaMichael James looked like a pretty good running back on Saturday afternoon.
But he didn’t quite look like a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
And against a University of Washington run defense that ranked among the bottom 10 units in the country heading into Saturday’s game, that came as quite a step forward for the Huskies.
“I still think he’s a heck of a running back,” Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “But I think, for the most part, our guys did a heck of a job.”
James finished with 121 yards on 26 carries, with no run longer than 16 yards. His total rushing yardage and average per carry (4.7) were his second-lowest totals of the season.
“We didn’t let him come out and just do it by himself,” UW cornerback Quinton Richardson said. “I feel like we did a good job of that. We couldn’t just let one player dominate the game. We had to take away something to get something, and I think we did that.”
James went over 100 yards for the sixth time in his seven games this season. He’s also the fourth consecutive running back to go over the 100-yard mark against the Huskies, who have allowed eight runners to hit that mark in nine games this season.
“Obviously it’s hard to slow down a player of (James’s) caliber; he’s a Heisman candidate for a reason,” Huskies linebacker Cort Dennison said. “But I think we did a good job of slowing them down any way we could.”
Said Richardson: “I’m not anyone to take anything away from one player; he’s a good player. We just contained him today.”
During a first quarter that was remarkably competitive, UW’s defense held Oregon to just 49 yards and five first downs. More important, the Huskies were the first team to hold the Ducks without a first-quarter point.
“I thought we were right there in it, and that’s what you want it to feel like,” UW linebacker Mason Foster said. “It was going to be a heavyweight fight, and we were right there throwing blows with them.”
The Huskies gave up more than 450 yards and 53 points over the final three quarters.
But the early success showed a side of UW’s defense that brought a glimmer of hope for the final three games of the season.
“We’ve had that in us all year,” said Richardson, who dropped an Oregon receiver for a four-yard loss on the Ducks’ opening possession and delivered a big hit a few minutes later. “I know, for a fact, that we’ve showcased it before. It just finally broke out a little bit today. They’re No. 1 for a reason, and we did what we could.”
A half for the kickers
The position that was expected to be a footnote in Saturday’s game ended up being the story of the first half.
Kickers accounted for the only points of the game’s first 24 minutes, leaving the game tied 3-3. And Oregon kicker Rob Beard followed the Ducks’ first touchdown by running for two points on a trick-play conversion.
UW’s Erik Folk had two 52-yard attempts within two minutes of each other early in the second quarter. The first one went wide left, then Folk cleared the crossbar by at least 10 yards on his next attempt.
Folk also added a tackle on the ensuing kickoff when he pushed Ducks return man Josh Huff out of bounds at the Oregon 38.
Not to be outdone, UW punter Kiel Rasp made a touchdown-saving tackle a few minutes later when he grabbed the back of Oregon return man Cliff Harris’s jersey and dragged him down near midfield.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian spends most of his practice weeks getting the Huskies ready for games. But last week, he helped out the defense in a unique way.
The former BYU quarterback took snaps with the Huskies’ scout team in an effort to prepare Washington’s defense for the tempo it would see against the Ducks.
It apparently worked.
“The pace right here was nothing compared to practice,” Huskies defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu said.
Sarkisian ran the scout offense at Tuesday and Wednesday practices last week, showing signs of exhaustion after both sessions.
“Sark did a good job,” linebacker Cort Dennison said. “But we got some pressure on him and got him to throw five interceptions (at Wednesday’s practice).”
And if Sarkisian ever steps into that role again?
“I hope he puts some pads on,” Dennison said. “I’d like to take some shots at him.”
Saturday strip show
The Huskies forced four fumbles on Saturday afternoon, recovering two of them.
The biggest one came on Oregon’s first possession of the second half. UW safety Nate Williams sacked Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas to force a fumble, which the Huskies recovered and followed with a touchdown pass to pull within five points, at 18-13.
“We felt like we were right there with them,” linebacker Mason Foster said of that touchdown off a turnover. “I felt like we showed that we could play with them.”
Unfortunately for the Huskies, Oregon outscored UW 35-3 the rest of the way.
Add it up
In the past three games — all against ranked opponents — the Huskies have allowed 1,459 yards and been outscored 138-30.
The good news is that UW is unlikely to face another ranked opponent this season.
Saturday’s loss also marked the seventh consecutive time Oregon has beaten UW, which is the longest streak in the history of the series.
All seven of those losses have been by 20 points or more.
When Oregon’s Darron Thomas broke off a 34-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, he became the fourth opposing quarterback to score on a run of 28 or more yards against UW this season. … Sarkisian said that sophomore safety Justin Glenn, a Kamiak High School graduate, suffered a concussion in the game. UW has a bye this week, so his status for the next game won’t be known until later in the week. … The loss guarantees the Huskies of a record no better than .500 for the eighth year in a row.