Can Chris Petersen Turn Oregon Week Around?

Twelve. It should be a number consigned to donut sales, but unfortunately for the Washington Huskies, it now hold a place in their personal Hall of Shame. 

Their 26-20 loss to the Oregon Ducks pushed the series now to an even dozen-straight in the win column for the feathered fowl. They say football is a game of inches, but in this case the Ducks have been miles ahead of the Huskies of late. If you’re a fan of the purple and gold, it doesn’t make for pretty reading:

2004 - Oregon 31-6

2005 - Oregon 45-21

2006 - Oregon 34-14

2007 - Oregon 55-34

2008 - Oregon 44-10

2009 - Oregon 43-19

2010 - Oregon 53-16

2011 - Oregon 34-17

2012 - Oregon 52-21

2013 - Oregon 45-24

2014 - Oregon 45-20

2015 - Oregon 26-20

Those aren’t the scores of the Ducks’ Spring Game, either. And Oregon has won the last twelve games over Washington by an average of three touchdowns and a field goal. 

Three touchdowns and a field goal. 

That’s not a rivalry; that’s abuse. 

From 1997 to 2004, the series was split 3-3.  THAT is a rivalry. A rivalry is when two teams are playing and two teams actually have a chance to win.

There are kids in Seattle colleges that have zero recollection of a win over Oregon. 

While Saturday’s Oregon win added more green and yellow memes to the college football universe, it subtly added another dimension to the mix - competition.

Competition. Washington fans haven’t seen that in a while, especially when it comes to playing the Ducks. 

Let’s not sugar-coat it; this loss will sting for a long time if you are of the purple persuasion. It’s going to hurt because it matters. 

But think about it - how many years has it been since you’ve been able to say that? 

Slowly - obviously way too slowly for Washington fans - Chris Petersen might be able to do something that Tyrone Willingham and Steve Sarkisian utterly failed to do during their times at Montlake; turn the Oregon game into what fans of both teams desperately want it to be.

One of the great rivalries in college football. 

When you think of the great interstate rivalries, Ohio State-Michigan comes to the fore. USC-Notre Dame is right there, along with the wonderful Army-Navy battle royale. The Red River Rivalry is one folks look forward to. And back east, the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia is held in high esteem. And there’s the biggest cocktail party in the world when Georgia and Florida get together. 

There’s the Little Brown Jug that Minnesota and Michigan play for. Alabama and Tennessee play for victory cigars. 

I have an idea for the creators of ‘The Pursuit’, the wonderful video series chronicled by the Washington Football program - the yearly segment set aside for Oregon Week can now be called the ‘Drive to Dignity’. 

Because the Ducks’ have Washington’s dignity in their back pocket and aren’t looking to give it back any time soon. 

2015 was supposed to be the year the breakthrough was going to happen, but it didn’t. But it could have - and just the fact that Washington had the ball with over a minute to go with an opportunity to win the game feels like the mountaineering equivalent of scaling K2. 

Everest is next. 

For the first time in a dozen years, the unthinkable wasn’t only possible - it was probable. We all thought a win was in the cards; ESPN said the same. Even those in Oregon that follow the Ducks the closest thought this was the year the streak would end. Oregon had just lost in double-overtime to Washington State to level their record at 3-3.

But the Ducks had other ideas. With everybody now using Oregon’s x’s and o’s, it once again became a game of Jimmie’s and Joe’s - or in this particular occasion the Vernon’s, Royce’s and DeForest’s.

Oregon leaned on transfer quarterback Vernon Adams, he of the seven-touchdown performance at Husky Stadium in a loss to the Huskies when he was playing for Eastern Washington. The kid is a gamer, and his third down scrambles and passes spelled the difference in the game. Royce Freeman wasn’t Snoop Stewart Spectacular, but he was Reliable Royce - racking up 138 yards on the ground. 

The Huskies had their chances. But when freshman quarterback Jake Browning couldn’t answer the bell for the final series with an injury, it was up to K.J. Carta-Samuels to do something. He hadn’t played a meaningful snap all season, but as Petersen will tell you - next man up. 

An interception sealed their fate, but many felt their fate was sealed the moment Oregon took the field. It’s a series built on inevitable disappointment if you’re from the north. 

But no more. The mood is changing. More fans were at the Oregon game than for any home game in 2014. The interest was back. The week leading up to the game was full of purple positivity generated from the Huskies’ upset win at USC, coupled with Oregon’s upset loss to the Cougars. 

This was to be the year. And that’s why the loss hurts even more. But in a quirk of psychology, hurting now is a hell of a lot better than not giving a rip either way. And Huskies fans haven’t had a rip to give in a very long time when it comes to the Oregon game. The conclusion foregone, the only reason to go was to tailgate your ass off. 

But hey! Washington fans might actually have a game to go to next year, for those that haven’t already sworn off Autzen Stadium. The Ducks lose 11 seniors, the Huskies seven. The Ducks won’t have Adams to lean on next year, although Freeman will undoubtedly be Oregon’s next Heisman candidate.   

Washington fans hate two words more than any other in the English language; next year. It’s a rebuild in perpetuity - at least that’s what they thought. 

So now it all comes down to perspective. Are you the Washington fan that sees a 26-20 win against Oregon as progress despite the loss, feeling optimistic for the future despite the short-term setbacks? Or are you the Washington fan that only sees the scoreboard and nothing else? 

In Washington’s three losses, they had the ball with time running out and a chance to tie or win the game. Instead of 6-0, they are 3-3. That’s a tell-tale sign of a team that doesn’t understand what it takes to win. 

Yes, the USC game was an aberration, but still a meaningful blip. It showed what these Huskies are capable of, but even in that game they didn’t play near their best. 

And make no mistake, they didn’t play nearly well enough to beat Oregon Saturday. The penalties, the missed opportunities, the chances they gave the Ducks’ playmakers to shine - these are all things the Huskies must clean up in order to progress. 

After the hangover has worn off, Washington fans can’t escape one salient detail; things are getting better. The scoreboard may not be the Huskies’ friend right now, but at least fans can look at it at the end of games and not have to fight off the initial urge to hurl. 

And face facts; looking at the last eleven UO/UW scoreboards would cause any self-respecting Husky fan to blow chunks. 

But the defense held Oregon to two touchdowns under their season average. The blowouts of the past appear to be a distant memory. With seven underclassmen, the offense is going to be a maddening show of inconsistency - and that was no different Saturday night. 

Chris Petersen almost cut off his post-game press conference a couple minutes in - not because he wanted to, but because there was little to say. The Huskies had a chance to take the 800-pound gorilla named Donald off their backs, but they couldn’t shake him. But more importantly for Petersen, they had a chance to win a winnable game. It didn’t matter that it happened to be the Ducks. 

For Washington fans, what a refreshing change. How nice will it be when Oregon week is just another game on the schedule instead of the annual Saturday spanking and Monday water cooler chirp-fest it’s become?

Or better yet - can Petersen turn it around to the point where the Oregon-Washington game becomes one of those ‘must-see’ interstate rivalries that captures the nation’s attention? 

Bring on next year. 


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