By John Sleeper
EUGENE, Ore. – It harkened back to a familiar refrain Saturday.
Beating up the other side. Overpowering ground game. Intimidation. Ball control. Relentless, raw power.
And that’s what happened Saturday.
Only this time, it was the Oregon Ducks, not the Washington Huskies.
Formerly the program that stole games with the smoke and mirrors of big plays and gimmicks, the Ducks beat the Huskies 23-16 with precisely the method traditional in Husky football.
Something the Huskies took pride in.
Something that was a self-described trademark.
Imagine. The Ducks. Tougher than the Huskies.
How times have changed.
You don’t need statistics to back it up. You need only look at the holes the Ducks offensive line opened for Maurice Morris. Sure, Morris is cat-quick and can juke a leopard out of its spots, but did you see the stiff-arm he slapped on UW corner Anthony Vontoure? Or how he ran over linebackers?
But if the UO offensive line doesn’t lay some serious wood on Washington’s front seven to spring him, Morris doesn’t get that far.
Contrast that to what the UW line did for its runners – Paul Arnold, Braxton Cleman, Willie Hurst and Rich Alexis. See any running room? They didn’t.
The switchover doesn’t end when Oregon doesn’t have the ball, either.
Oregon’s eight-man front is eerily similar to Jim Lambright’s scheme in the ’90s. Because the Ducks have superb cornerbacks, they can afford to leave them in man coverage much of the time and allow the guys up front to pillage and plunder.
In other words, exert their toughness.
Which they have in abundance.
Their confidence wilted from a teed-off defense, consistently lousy field position and a deafening, wild throng, the Huskies turned conservative, afraid of making a mistake. But give them credit. They fought back and had the ball on their own 20, down seven points, with more than two minutes remaining.
This, despite first-half sins and a 23-3 third-quarter deficit, despite being horribly outplayed and outslugged. Washington had a late chance.
But the Ducks didn’t let it happen. And they won their fifth game in the last seven against the Huskies, three out of the last four at home. And the crowd flooded onto the field.
Granted, Autzen Stadium is a loony bin. But it’s a loony bin because the loonies have something to go loony about.
This is a very, very good team. A tough team. A team with better athletes, better facilities and a better home atmosphere.
It’s a team so tough that it had punt returns of 70, 35 and 28 yards called back and still held a 17-3 lead at the half. When was the last time an Oregon team ran the ball 52 times and passed just 22 against Washington? The last time it outgained Washington 229 yards to 111 on the ground.
That’s the way Washington used to win.
For now, however, it’s the way of the Ducks.
And it’s likely the way that will carry them to Pasadena.
Even those who bleed the darkest shade of purple have to admit that.
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