Stadium's Mojo Not Enough This Time

SEATTLE - In all my years, I've never felt shaking like that. With less than a minute to go to kickoff at Husky Stadium, the press box wasn't just shaking. It was bouncing. Up and down, like a baby on the knees of Mother Tradition. Up and down. It was crazy! It was something to behold.

It was the culmination of 92 years' worth of blood, sweat, and tears, rolled up into a singular eruption of pure, unadulterated fanaticism, followed by the inevitable entropy.

You knew it wouldn't last. It couldn't last.

How could it? The buildup to Saturday night's game - the last game ever at the 'old' Husky Stadium, the 20-year reunion of the greatest team ever assembled at Washington, Senior Night … it was folly to think the actual football game between Oregon and Washington could match such lofty heights. But it tried. The 69,407 fans inside the stadium tried their hardest to push the Huskies over the edge, did everything they could to will their team to a most improbable victory against the 6th-best team in America.

"It was rocking out there," said Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly. "Our kids enjoyed the environment."

In the end - even on a stage as grand as the one the Huskies found themselves on - the same rules always apply. The game is won in the trenches, and turnovers are still the most important statistic. In their 34-17 victory, Oregon simply followed the A,B,C's of winning: Great OL play; Tenacious DL play; and key thefts to not only create momentum for yourself, but take it away from the other guys.

"Obviously disappointed," Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said after the game, echoing the thoughts of every man, woman and child at Husky Stadium not decked out in green and yellow. "I thought it was a tremendous atmosphere for Husky Stadium. I thought our fans brought a lot of energy and excitement, and unfortunately offensively we didn't perform well enough to win. You can't have three turnovers, you can't have six sacks. You can't give a team like Oregon short fields and expect to beat them. You can't expect to win against a really good team when you perform that way."

Big Mo was supposed to be all in Washington's favor Saturday night. All night, highlights emanated from the Jumbotron scanning decades of key moments in Washington's history. The Ducks weren't supposed to cope with the purple and gold mojo, but they did - and they did it with momentum plays early and steady line play throughout.

"I think playing in the opening game like we did down in Dallas (against LSU) gave us the opportunity to feel what that was going to be like," Kelly said. "We play in a real loud environment ourselves, and here our defense had to adjust."

Of course Washington's defense had to account for the three-headed running back monster named LaMichaelKenjonDe'AnthonyJamesBarnerThomas - simply known as LaBarnas here for brevity's sake. On average, LaBarnas accounted for 285 of Oregon's 309 yards rushing per game, but they didn't break the Huskies' back. It was a kid from down the road - Auburn's David Paulson - that came up with clutch catch after catch on third down while Washington sunk back into their soft coverage tendencies. They didn't want to get beat deep, and it showed.

Washington followed their game plan diligently in the first half, despite two interceptions thrown by Keith Price. They allowed the Ducks to only have 6:35 of possession, yet still gave up 17 points. Oregon has made their living off of the third quarter, so it was a surprise to no one that they traipsed 90 yards in 2:25 to give themselves a 24-10 lead.

But the never-say-die Dawgs had an answer. A beautiful pitch and catch between Keith Price and Kasen Williams again chopped the Ducks' lead to a single score.

"I really think after all of that, we overcame that and got it to 24-17, but didn't perform late in the game. From the middle of the third quarter on, we didn't perform offensively."

The key moment came during a 3rd-and-9 from the Oregon 31, the Huskies down seven. UO quarterback Darron Thomas goes back to pass, scans the field for as long as he needs, and finds Paulson running free for a 34-yard gain. It was a four vertical call against a three-deep zone; akin to finding two aces in the hole to your opponent's two kings. Doom.

That giant sucking sound that followed was Washington's Pac-12 championship hopes being ripped from them like Halloween candy from a 10-year old. It was cold, calculated, and every bit the kind of play you have come to expect from the Oregon Ducks. Coming from the other side of the Columbia River, it was the stuff of sheer envy. Back in the day, that was a move the Huskies would have pulled.

As it stands, the Huskies will have to be temporarily satisfied with the little victories. They held Oregon's potent offense to 150 yards less than their season average. They held the Ducks to their lowest margin of victory during their eight-game series skid.

But they couldn't keep their fingers in the dam when it mattered most. The fans couldn't act as extra protection for Keith Price against a withering Oregon attack that toyed with Washington's offensive line all night long.

"I don't want to give excuses," Sarkisian said. "I've seen us play better and I know we can play better. We expect to play better. I don't know if that's the best d-line we've seen all year; I don't know that. For whatever reason, we didn't play great. But this is the second time now in a few weeks where we've gone up against two pretty good opponents in Stanford and Oregon, and we haven't performed well up front.

"I'm still trying to figure out what happened. How do we give up six sacks and how do we not have a pocket? They are good players, but six sacks is a crazy number to me. That's embarrassing."

It's hard to see the forest for the trees in a loss like this one, and Sarkisian admitted that the Washington locker room post-game was a somber one. They had inadvertently played party pooper to their own coming-out. But through it all, it feels like the breakthrough is within reach. The stage was plenty bright, and the margin of error is razor-thin when you try to tackle a top-10 team.

"This team has come to a point where they truly expect to win," Sarkisian said, matter-of-factly. "Coming into this game we were 5-0 in Husky Stadium…the buildup, the energy, enthusiasm in the stadium - I think they felt like they had a great week of preparation. And for the game to go the way that it did, they are disappointed."

The beauty of college football is that they'll have another chance to test their mettle next week, against a team on paper that appears to be just as talented as Oregon. But for 24 hours, these Dawgs will lick their wounds and think about what could have been, because it was within their reach. It was there for them to take. And contrary to what many thought going into the game, it wasn't too big for them.

"They played tough," Paulson said. "That's a good defense and they play really hard. It was a struggle there for a while."

For a while.

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