Dawgs forget to Duck

  • JOHN SLEEPER / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, September 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By JOHN SLEEPER

Herald Writer

EUGENE, Ore. – Autzen Stadium has earned the reputation of being the 12th man.

But truthfully, the No. 20 Oregon Ducks needed just 11 to deal a series of knockout blows on the No. 6 Washington Huskies Saturday.

Oregon beat Washington 23-16 in a pounding that was laughingly more one-sided than the score reflected. Sure, Autzen was its deafening, colorful self. But so dominating were the Ducks early on that they withstood both the Huskies and themselves in a key Pacific-10 Conference football game.

“I think we made it a little bit closer than it needed to be,” said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, whose tam is 2-0 in the conference, 4-1 overall, “but overall I’m very satisfied.”

Playing a nearly flawless three quarters before a wild, standing-room only crowd of 46,153, the Ducks let it be known that they not only are a Rose Bowl contender, but that they also are one of the premier teams in the nation. Especially in their own stadium, in which they have an 18-game win streak.

It was a game decided by field position, yes, but the Ducks took full advantage of pinning the Huskies (0-1, 3-1) deep in their own territory most of the game. Twelve of the Huskies’ 15 possessions started at or inside their own 20-yard line, and the average starting point of their drives was their own 17.

The unsung hero was punter Kurtis Doerr, who pinned the Huskies inside their 20 with four of his kicks.

“Field position didn’t allow us to do a lot of the things you might do toward the middle of the field,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We just weren’t able to get ourselves out of there.”

So handcuffed, the Huskies played conservatively. With the throng roaring, Washington tried to blast the ball out with running plays behind an offensive line that averages 314 pounds a man. When that didn’t work, the Huskies tried short, quick passes, with Marques Tuiasosopo taking three-step drops.

Again, the Ducks defense turned them away.

The Huskies can’t even blame the defeat on the deafening crowd, although the decibel level did prevent them from using more than two audibles. The Ducks were simply better. Much better.

“We’ve got to create the ability to make plays,” Neuheisel said. “Because of the field position, we weren’t feeling like we could risk that. If you get a sack, it’s a safety. We will probably look back and say we should have taken some chances.”

Right now, though, the weapons aren’t there. And that’s a condition the Ducks don’t have to worry about.

Sparked by 152 rushing yards on 31 carries by tailback Maurice Morris, Oregon more than compensated for a sub-par performance by quarterback Joey Harrington (9 of 22, 119 yards, one TD).

“He’s a good running back and he’s fast,” UW defensive end Spencer Marona said. “But we didn’t tackle well in the first half.”

Harrington did cap an 88-yard first quarter drive with a slick 13-yard pass to tight end Justin Peele that gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead. He also converted crucial third-down plays in the first half with his arm and his legs. His quarterback sneak from 1-yard out gave the Ducks a 23-3 advantage with 9:09 left in the third quarter, a lead that proved insurmountable.

“I’m not going to lie,” defensive tackle Larry Tripplett said. “It was frustrating. But we didn’t lose our composure. It’s not time to start pointing fingers.”

Observers thought that Washington would have a distinct advantage on the line of scrimmage. No deal. Oregon’s tough, quick linemen on both sides of the ball more than held their own. The Huskies never solved the Ducks’ defensive scheme of stuffing eight and nine players within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Washington mustered just 111 rushing yards, nearly 80 yards off its average. Paul Arnold led the Huskies with 39 yards on eight carries.

Oregon rolled up 229 yards on the ground.

“I’m extremely pleased with our offensive line and our defensive line,” Bellotti said. “When we run the ball and shut down the run, they’re the major guys involved.”

When the Huskies did show signs of life, it was too late. With the Ducks up 23-3 in the third quarter, the Washington defense turned away Oregon twice inside the Husky 25, helped by two missed Josh Frankel field goals.

Washington fought back with a 7-yard run by Tuiasosopo that capped a 98-yard drive and later a 8-yard TD pass to Willie Hurst to get to within 23-16 with 3:31 left in the game.

The UW hopes were further enhanced when the defense forced Oregon to punt after three plays. The Huskies took over on their own 20-yard line with 2:10 remaining.

However, with the third-largest crowd in Autzen history bellowing for blood, Washington fizzled. Two passes to tight end Jerramy Stevens missed. On the second, he didn’t even turn around to spot the ball in time before the pass whizzed by.

A comeback pass to Wondame Davis bounced on the turf. On fourth-and-10, linebacker Matt Smith batted down a throw and the Huskies were done.

“I thought our team fought and fought with character,” Neuheisel said. “It was just too little too late.”

The Ducks were bent on keeping Tuiasosopo from beating them and succeeded. Although he engineered the two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, Tuiasosopo was pressured severely into completing just 14 passes out of 37 attempts for 229 yards, 59 on a short toss in the fourth quarter to Stevens that Stevens turned into a big gain. The Ducks picked off two passes.

“Marques Tuiasosopo is a tremendous weapon and we wanted to make him one-dimensional,” Bellotti said. “I don’t know if we completely succeeded, but I believe that we came pretty close.”

Sure, it’s early in the year. Sure, Washington needs to address some issues as the season rolls along. But strange things are routine in the Pac-10, and Neuheisel knows it. Not since the 1992 Huskies went to the Rose Bowl has a Pac-10 team gone through the conference unbeaten.

“You don’t have to be undefeated to win it,” he said. “While you’d rather start the conference season with a victory, I think we saw great character in coming back. We’re going to try to fix what’s broken and play real well against Oregon State next week.”

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