By John Boyle
EUGENE—In every facet of the game, Washington struggled on Saturday night.
The offense was sluggish, the defense gave up big plays, and the special teams were guilty of several noticeable gaffs.
The end result after all those struggles, not surprisingly, was a 44-10 loss to Oregon that starts the Huskies’ 2008 season off in just about the worst possible way. The win was Oregon’s fifth straight against the Huskies, a first for the Ducks in the series.
Throughout the 2007 season, the biggest concern about Washington football was the abysmal defense that allowed a school-worst 446.4 yards per game.
Now, however, it seems the Huskies need to be concerned about the offense as well.
Throughout a breezy night at Autzen Stadium, Husky receivers struggled to get open or dropped passes when they did. Tailbacks found no room to run, and Jake Locker found himself getting knocked to the ground or missing his target more than he’ll care to remember when looking back on this game. The veteran offensive line that is supposed to be the strength of the offense often couldn’t give tailbacks room to run, or Locker time to pass.
In the end, the Huskies finished with only 242 yards of total offense, and averaged just 2.2 yards per carry.
“We didn’t see this coming,” said offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. “We knew they were going to load the box, but we still thought we’d be able to knock them off the ball and run the football. We weren’t able to run the football really in any way shape or form whether we spread them or tried to play with a power set, we couldn’t run the football.”
Almost the entire game, the Ducks stacked nine players in the box and dared the Huskies to throw the ball, but a combination of a rough night for Locker, some dropped passes, and a strong Oregon pass rush allowed the Ducks to get away with their load-the-box approach.
“They loaded the box and forced us to throw the ball, and we weren’t able to do it,” said Locker, who completed just 12 of 28 attempts for 103 yards.
Asked how he felt about his completion percentage, Locker said, “I don’t even know what it is. I know it wasn’t very good, so not good.”
More often than not, the Huskies best play was the broken kind. With the pocket collapsing, Jake Locker improvised to have his biggest plays of the day. Otherwise, however, the sophomore quarterback struggled more than he did in almost any game last year.
“Maybe the best part of what we did was defend Locker,” Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. “He is their number one weapon and is very difficult to tackle in the open field. Our defense did a great job of containing him.”
Locker, who gave way to Ronnie Fouch in the fourth quarter once the game was out of hand, was the Huskies leading rusher with 16 carries for 57 yards. Freshman Chris Polk, who started at tailback, gained just 19 yards on 14 carries. Polk, billed as a dynamic playmaker, spent almost the entire game running between the tackles, and seemingly had little room to run. To his credit, however, he didn’t put the blame on his offensive line.
“[The holes] were there, but I just rushed it a little bit,” he said. “That’s me making a little rookie mistake. They were there, but I just rushed it. I wasn’t patient enough.”
The defense was hardly spectacular, but did better, for three quarters anyway, than the Huskies have in recent years against the Ducks’ high-octane spread offense.
After scoring 55 points and piling up 661 yards against the Huskies last season, the Ducks were held to 21 points and 334 yards through three quarters. That was hardly the effort Washington was hoping for, however, and coaches and players will still have plenty to be upset about when they looks at the film of this one.
When the Ducks did succeed on offense, they did so quickly. Oregon jumped ahead 14-0 in the first quarter. Jeramiah Johnson started the scoring with a four-yard touchdown run, one play after a 44-yard carry.
Johnson finished with a career-high 124 yards on just 15 carries. Terence Scott, who scored on a 60-yard catch and run in the first quarter to make it 14-0, also had a career night with 117 yards on six catches.
All of Oregon’s scoring drives lasted less than three minutes, and two were under one minute.
Washington battled back in the second quarter after falling behind by two touchdowns, scoring first on a 35-yard Ryan Perkins field goal, then on a one-yard Paul Homer run that led to a 14-10 halftime score. Those two drives were all the offense the Huskies could muster, however, and the Ducks easily pulled away in the second half.
Oregon scored on a 13-yard run by Johnson to go up 21-10 in the third quarter, then put their collective foot on the accelerator in the fourth quarter, scoring on 48- and 25-yard touchdown passes to put the game away. Jaison Williams’ 48-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter made it 30-10, and was the final nail in the Huskies coffin. The senior receiver was uncovered on the play, caught a short pass, then raced down the left sideline for the score.
“I thought they out-answered us in the second half,” defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said.
Donatell, who was coaching his first game with the Huskies, gave the Ducks offense credit, but also though he could have done more.
“I think they’re very good, but I’m disappointed in myself,” he said. “I think I could have matched it up better. I think I can coach better in the game. I don’t put that on anybody but myself.”
As a whole, the Huskies seemed rattled by the sellout crowd of 58,788, making the type of mistakes one might expect from a young team opening its season in a hostile environment.
Receivers dropped passes that hit them in the hands, freshman Jordan Polk bobbled a kick return that led to bad field position. Punter Jared Ballman, a senior, struggled as well, shanking a pair of punts and hitting others short. Polk and Ballman weren’t the only players struggling on special teams, as missed tackles led to a couple of long returns.
The Ducks pulled away in the second half despite playing without their starting quarterback. Justin Roper, who completed seven of 11 attempts for 114 yards in the first half, suffered a mild concussion midway through the second quarter and did not return. He was replaced by a combination of junior college transfer Jeremiah Mosali and true freshman Chris Harper.
One of the few bright spots was the debut of freshman tight end Kavario Middleton. He caught four passes for 35 yards, and looked like the most sure-handed pass catcher on the field. D’Andre Goodwin led the Huskies with eight catches for 67 yards
Fouch, one of several players to make his UW debut, completed five of seven passes for 44 yards.
Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at email@example.com. For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com/huskiesblog