EUGENE, Ore. — Maybe now it’s time to worry about the offense.
Throughout the 2007 season, Washington’s biggest concern was its abysmal defense that allowed a school-worst 446.4 yards per game. On Saturday night, however, when the Huskies opened their season against Oregon, a sluggish offense was the biggest obstacle in a 44-10 loss to the Ducks.
Throughout a breezy night at Autzen Stadium, Husky receivers struggled to get open or dropped passes when they did. The veteran offensive line that was supposed to be the strength of the offense often couldn’t give tailbacks room to run or quarterback Jake Locker time to pass.
In the end, the Huskies finished with just 234 yards of total offense, and averaged just two 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.”
More often than not, the Huskies best play was the broken kind. With the pocket collapsing Locker improvised to have his biggest plays of the day.
Locker gave way to Ronnie Fouch in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. Locker completed just 12 of 28 passes for 103 yards and was sacked four times. He was also the Huskies leading rusher with 17 carries for 48 yards.
The defense was hardly spectacular, but did show improvement compared to 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 496 yards. But that was hardly the effort Washington was hoping for, and coaches and players will be undoubtedly upset when they look at the film of Saturday’s opener.
When the Ducks did succeed on offense, they did so quickly.
Oregon jumped ahead 14-0 in the first quarter. Jeramiah Johnson scored on a four-yard run, one play after he gained 44 yards.
Johnson finished with a career-high 123 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.
Washington battled back in the second quarter, 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 pulled away in the second half.
The Ducks 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 touchdowns of 48 and 25 yards to put the game away.
“Some play that us as a defense needed to make that we didn’t make and they capitalized on them,” said junior linebacker Donald Butler. “It’s very disappointing. We came in here with high hopes, but it just took a turn for the worse and we didn’t capitalize like we needed to.”
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 another 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 7 of 11 attempts for 114 yards in the first half. Roper injured his hand 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.
Fouch, one of several players to make his UW debut, completed five of seven passes for 44 yards.
Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com /huskiesblog