By JOHN SLEEPER
EUGENE, Ore. – Although the Washington Huskies got away with its four-man rotation in the backfield in their first three games, Oregon’s defensive schemes and energetic play put that to a crashing halt.
Washington gained a season-low 111 yards on the ground in its 23-16 defeat to the Ducks Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Starting tailback Paul Arnold led the Huskies with 38 yards on eight carries. Out of the four tailbacks, Willie Hurst had the next most carried with four. He netted just 8 yards.
And although Washington went into Saturday’s game leading the conference in rushing at better than 190 yards a game, something’s clearly missing.
“I don’t think we’ve run the ball effectively as we’ve wanted at any time this year,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “I think we have to do better and we really need to evaluate it.”
The evaluation starts with the Huskies offensive line, which had problems dealing with the Ducks’ scheme of bringing eight and sometimes nine defenders into the box.
“Oregon did a great job,” UW offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson said. “And we weren’t as physical, knocking off the ball like we’ve been doing.”
Added Neuheisel: “We’ve got to get down to basics. We can’t lean on people. We’ve got to move them.”
Arnold has received much criticism for being tentative and failing to show an ability to break long runs. In the four games this season, Arnold has gained 156 yards on 35 carries.
Neuheisel, however, says the criticism is unfair and that Arnold remains the starter.
“I don’t know why everybody says Paul is struggling,” Neuheisel said. “He made some big plays for us today. Paul Arnold is a sophomore tailback who’s trying his best. Right now, we’ve evaluated that he’s our best tailback.”
The most alarming stat Saturday was time of possession. The Huskies, who led the Pacific-10 Conference in that department last season at 32 minutes, 7 seconds a game, controlled the ball just 24:28 Saturday, more than 11 minutes fewer than Oregon.
While the Ducks have the reputation as a quick-strike team, they had 229 yards of rushing offense and beat the bigger Huskies up front.
“In think our improvement this year has come at the line of scrimmage,” UO coach Mike Bellotti said. “I’ve said many times that the game starts there. Everybody thinks we’re a flash-and-dash team, but we’re not. We’re going to start with the line of scrimmage.”
After Saturday, that’s exactly where the Huskies will start as well.
But most of all, the crowd at Autzen Stadium prevented the Huskies from adequately changing plays at the line of scrimmage.
Quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo checked off twice, and nothing good came of it. The last came midway through the fourth quarter. On third-and-2 on the Oregon 47 and the 46,153 fans screaming, Tuiasosopo made hand signals to his receivers, walked up to each member of the offensive line and yelled and repeated the instructions to his backfield.
Unfortunately, freshman tailback Rich Alexis ran the wrong way on an option play designed to go left, and Tuiasosopo was thrown for a 6-yard loss.
“You can’t audible here,” Gilbertson said. “You can’t even try. No one can hear. Forget it.”
While the Huskies started their drives, on average, on its own 17-yard line, Oregon began its drives on its own 47. On seven occasions, the Ducks started in Washington territory.
Considering that, Washington was fortunate to have given up just 23 points.
“I thought our defense was valiant in terms of keeping them from getting too many points, considering they started almost every drive inside the 50-yard line” Neuheisel said. “It was just a rough day trying to get things on track.”
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