SEATTLE — It was a nationally televised game against a nationally ranked opponent, so Saturday’s showdown with Oregon was the perfect opportunity for the University of Washington football team to make statement.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, that statement once again ended up something like this: “Maybe next year.”
Washington, which was hoping to end a nine-year losing streak against the Ducks, instead came up on the short end of another lopsided outcome, 45-24, in a game that was very close early and still close by the fourth quarter before Oregon, the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, pulled away in the late minutes at Husky Stadium.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Washington twice cut Oregon’s lead to seven points in the third quarter. But the Ducks quickly answered both UW touchdowns with TDs of their own, and then added another early in the fourth quarter and one more midway through the period to put the game away.
“That’s a good football team,” UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said in an understatement. “Their ranking is deserved.”
Playing without one of their primary offensive weapons, running back De’Anthony Thomas (out for a few weeks with a sprained ankle), the Ducks never missed a beat. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota showed why he is a Heisman Trophy contender by shredding Washington’s defense through the air, passing for 366 yards and three touchdowns, and on the ground with 88 yards and another touchdown.
“I don’t have a Heisman vote,” Sarkisian said, “but I’d be hard pressed to say we’ll see a better quarterback this year. That guy is special. I don’t know when he is planning on going to the NFL, but when he does I think he’ll be a top-five draft pick. He’s a hell of a player.”
Washington managed 376 yards of offense, including 167 rushing yards from tailback Bishop Sankey, which were good totals against a strong Oregon defense. But offensively the Ducks were even better, and decidedly so, turning the UW defense inside-out at times to finish with a whopping total of 631 yards.
As further evidence of their offensive superiority, the Ducks did not turn the ball over once. Washington, meanwhile, lost a fumble and an interception, with both turnovers coming in Oregon territory.
“When you turn it over twice and they don’t turn it over at all, it’s the No. 1 state in football that impacts wins and losses,” Sarkisian said. “Both our turnovers … took potential points off the board for us and gave them possession, so I thought both plays really had an impact on the outcome.”
“We went toe to toe with them through the whole game,” UW cornerback Marcus Peters said, “but they just started making their plays in the fourth quarter. And we couldn’t get any turnovers, which I think was one of the biggest things.”
Another big thing was Oregon’s ability to match every UW threat. When the Huskies closed within 21-14 early in the third quarter on a dandy 60-yard touchdown scamper by Sankey, Oregon needed just three plays to reply. The touchdown came on a perfectly thrown pass of 65 yards from Mariota to wide receiver Josh Huff.
When Washington trimmed the deficit to 31-24 near the end of the period on a 25-yard Sankey TD run, the Ducks again countered promptly, this time needing just five plays to score on a march that included a 36-yard Mariota run, a pass of 30 yards from Mariota to wide receiver Bralon Addison and Mariota’s 5-yard run to the end zone.
“I thought our kids played hard,” Sarkisian said. “I thought they fought and I thought we showed a lot of resolve there in the third quarter to battle back in the ballgame. But unfortunately we just had a hard time containing Marcus.”
The loss was the second in a row for Washington, which dropped a 31-28 decision at Stanford last week after opening its season with four consecutive wins. The Huskies face another tough test this coming Saturday with an afternoon game at Arizona State.
For Washington, the discouragement of two straight defeats is somewhat abated by having played “two really good football teams in back-to-back weeks, and we’ve gone toe to toe with them,” Sarkisian said. “We battled and we competed.
“We’re a good football team, but we’ll only be as good as we prepare mentally, physically and emotionally (this week) … because we’ve got a big-time ballgame next Saturday against Arizona State,” he added. “They’ll be ready for us, so we need a great week of preparation to get ready for that game.”
“We hung with (Oregon), but a loss is a loss to me and any way you cut it it’s frustrating,” UW tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins said. “But we have to bounce back because this isn’t the end of the season. We still have a lot of games to play and we can still put a really good record up. So it’s a frustrating loss, yeah, but we’ve got to move on.”