Oregon turned in its best defensive performance of the 2015 season on Saturday night in Seattle against Washington. The Ducks (4-3, 2-2) held the Huskies (3-3, 1-2) to 385 yards of total offense in a 26-20 victory, extending their win streak over their rival to 12 games.
The effort was a welcome change for defensive coordinator Don Pellum, who has faced scrutiny as his unit has turned in a number of poor performances through the first half of the season. Entering the contest, Oregon was ranked 116th in the country in total defense according to ESPN, allowing nearly 39 points and 475 yards per game to opponents.
But Pellum believed Saturday was his team’s most encouraging performance of the year.
“I think the kids played hard,” Pellum said. “I think at times we played pretty smart. It was nice to see us make a play at the end of the game to finish it.”
Granted, Washington’s offense — ranked 119th in the FBS according to ESPN — was arguably the worst the Ducks had seen thus far this season. But the Ducks stifled the Huskies offense enough and came up with big plays when it mattered, capped by freshman cornerback Ugo Amadi’s interception of K.J. Carta-Samuels on the Huskies final drive to seal the deal.
“The guy was open,” Amadi said of the play. “But I had enough time to react to the ball so he kind of sailed it in the air a little bit.”
Leading the way for Oregon was senior defensive end DeForest Buckner, who had a stellar game with six tackles (one solo) and 1.5 sacks on Huskies quarterback Jake Browning. Tyree Robinson led the team in tackles with 11 (six solo) while Juwaan Williams was right behind him with eight tackles (six solo) on the night.
“We just came in this week with a mentality that nothing could stop us,” linebacker Christian French said. “A lot of mistakes we made before were our own mistakes. We realized that and knew we had to avoid them and that’s what we were able to do today to get the win.”
The Ducks got it going early and held Washington to seven first downs and 166 yards on total offense in the first half. The Huskies punted on their first four drives and struggled to matriculate the ball down the field against the opposing defense until their final drive on the half.
On that drive, Browning completed four of his six pass attempts and ran for a first down. He looked to have a sure TD pass to Deontae Cooper, but the ball bounced off Cooper’s hands and the Huskies settled for a field goal instead and trailed by 13 at halftime.
Coming out of halftime the Huskies regrouped and Browning found Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius for 31 and 30 yard completions, but back-to-back sacks deep in Oregon territory forced UW to settle for another field goal.
After a punt, UW found a glimmer of hope on Myles Gaskin’s 72-yard touchdown run to bring them within 10 points. The Huskies found more good fortune when Ducks kicker Aidan Schneider yanked a 32-yard FG attempt to shift the pressure back on the UO defense at the start of the fourth quarter, but they responded with a three-and-out.
However, Browning, who finished 19-for-30 with 199 yards and a touchdown, along with Gaskin (155 yards rushing) wouldn’t let the Huskies fade into the night though. Aided by two personal foul penalties on DeForest Buckner, UW reeled off a drive that resulted in a short touchdown pass to Jaydon Mickens to get close the gap to six with under four minutes to go.
But, unlike last week when the Ducks defense faltered against Washington State on the final drive, this time around they made the big play and get the added bonus of a week off before a Thursday night game at Arizona State to close out October. The main focus: get healthy.
“We really need the bye week right now,” Pellum said. “Everyone’s schedule’s tough. But to have one bye week and have it in the middle — it’s good it’s in the middle — but we’ve beat up along the way so we really need the bye week obviously. We need to kind of regroup defensively to move forward.”