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Husky football review: Three likes and dislikes about the 52-21 loss to Oregon
Related Column: Oregon extends Huskies' misery
EUGENE, Ore. -- Detailing a few highs and lows from Washington's 52-21 loss at Oregon. And let me tell you, it was as hard to find highs in this week's pitiful performance as it was to find lows in last week's upset of Stanford.
1. Five turnovers ruined any chance of the Huskies being competitive. Oregon converted those turnovers into 28 points. You can forget beating the Ducks if you're going to allow them defensive touchdowns and short fields. It started with freshman Marvin Hall muffing a punt in the first quarter. Quarterback Keith Price committed three turnovers (two interceptions and fumble). And Pio Vatuvei, a freshman defensive lineman, lost a fumble on a fake punt attempt. "It was extremely frustrating," Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian said of all the mistakes.
2. Price isn't the same quarterback right now. Price completed 19 of 31 passes for only 145 yards and threw those two interceptions. The Huskies' passing game is struggling in a year in which Price was expected to carry a heavier load. But the Huskies have inexperienced wide receivers and an offensive line ravaged by injuries, and that has affected the quarterback's efficiency. If opponents contain Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Huskies haven't shown they can counter with more dangerous weapons. The passing game is as limited as it's been since Jake Locker broke a rib in 2010. "It's humbling," Price says, shaking his head.
3. The Huskies have allowed an average of 46.5 points and 467 yards in two road games. New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's unit is playing excellent at home. But against two marquee opponents on the road, the Huskies have been thrashed, reminding everyone that much improvement remains. LSU gained 437 yards in a 41-3 victory in September. And then there was this performance, the worst of the fledgling Wilcox defensive era. The Ducks posted 497 yards and 52 points. The Huskies have allowed 275.3 yards and 12.7 points in three home games, one of which was against Stanford.
1. The Huskies rushed for 208 yards, including 104 by Bishop Sankey -- his third straight triple-digit performance. Sarkisian thought he had a good game plan to attack Oregon and keep its offense off the field, and it revolved around their improved running game. The Huskies still managed to be productive running the ball, but this was far from the plan Sark had devised. The Huskies ran despite falling behind 21-0 in the first quarterback. They wanted to run to keep the game within reach. Nevertheless, Sankey is becoming a solid back. The offensive line is much better at run blocking. And the Huskies' secondary backs are starting to be more productive. The confidence gained from running for more than 200 yards against Oregon is the greatest positive to take from this game.
2. Travis Feeney, a converted safety, still makes mistakes at linebacker, but he's a player. Feeney finished with 12 tackles, tied with safety Sean Parker for the team lead. Shaq Thompson also intercepted the first pass of his college career, off a pass tipped by cornerback Desmond Trufant. But Feeney played the best of all the Huskies' defensive players. It was a rough night for the defense, but it had some promising moments. For the most part, Feeney, a redshirt freshman who is long and lean like a basketball player, showed his potential.
3. After falling behind 21-0 on Avery Patterson interception return touchdown, the Huskies responded with their best drive of the night . It was a solid drive and an incredible response after an awful turnover. The Huskies went 73 yards in seven plays. Sankey led the way with 27 rushing yards on four carries during the drive, including a one-yard touchdown plunge. Price completed all three of his pass attempts. That was the way Sarkisian wanted to play all game on offense. He got it during that drive, and at the time, a 21-7 deficit didn't seem insurmountable. It felt like the Huskies were stabilizing. But the success was fleeting.
The rebuilding Huskies won't be a finished product until they can compete with Oregon. And who knows how long it will take for them to do that.
Much like the 41-3 loss to LSU in September, this game will be held up by many as evidence that the Huskies aren't where they should be in Year 4 under Sarkisian. It's a fair to raise the issue, but I'm wondering if this blowout is more proof that the gap between Washington and Oregon is wider than the Huskies would like to believe. Yes, the Huskies killed themselves with five turnovers and dozens of mental mistakes. But the Ducks applied plenty of pressure with their explosive offense and underrated defense. The mistakes exaggerated the score, but the Huskies are still way behind the Ducks in terms of talent, identity and belief in what they're doing.
That's why they've whipped the Dawgs for nine straight seasons. And they'll continue to do so until the Huskies can play a game against Oregon without feeling like their helmets are on fire.
This game won't define Washington's season. It doesn't reveal some unknown truth. In fact, it was the most predictable outcome of the season. I expect Washington (3-2) to move on and have another solid, bowl-worthy season. If the Huskies are on their game next week, they might even have a chance to upset USC. But the Ducks are their bugaboo.
Until the Huskies can change their fortunes against Oregon, they'll always be playing for no higher than second place in the Pac-12 North division.