Post-game analysis - Oregon

EUGENE, Ore. - A new season always brings with it hope and promise. College football fans want to sit in their seats, or kick back in their favorite Lazy Boys and watch the new versions of their teams show improvement and win. Unfortunately, for most die-hard Washington Husky fans, there wasn't enough of either Saturday night.

The 2008 edition of the Washington Huskies football team came rolling into Eugene confident they could win in the hostile environment that is Autzen Stadium. After the game, Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said none of the staff saw the poor 44-10 performance coming. The players, to a man, all said they had a great week of practice leading up to the game and they knew they could get it done. However, somewhere midway through the third quarter it all got away, and the team now heads back to Seattle for their home opener next week against BYU, looking for answers and a better outcome.

After a touching memorial to deceased Oregon football player Todd Doxey, the Autzen crowd got revved up and had the joint rocking at kickoff. Washington received the ball first and came out on offense with true freshman Chris Polk in the backfield behind Jake Locker, and another at tight end in Kavario Middleton. The offense struggled mightily out of the gate with the crowd buzzing in their helmets, converting only three first downs in the first quarter, two of which came by way of penalty. To make matters worse, the wind was blowing directly into the Huskies' faces, with gusts up to 18 mph. This made the punting game challenging and definitely slanted the field position battle in the Ducks' favor.

Oregon's offense feasted on Washington's defense in the first quarter, scoring on drives of 63 yards in four plays and 60 yards in three plays, jumping out to a 14-0 lead against the Huskies' new-look 3-3-5 stack defense. According to new Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell they were trying to put more speed on the field to help deal with the wide-open Oregon attack, as well as limit the number of young players on the field early on.

As expected, against a young and undersized Husky defensive front, the Ducks came out emphasizing the run game with three consecutive attempts. Jeremiah Johnson capped off the successful first drive with runs of 44 and four yards. It would be a sign of good things to come for Johnson and the Ducks. To make matters worse for Washington - as if the potent run game wasn't tough enough to face - sophomore quarterback Justin Roper got the explosive Oregon passing game going quickly by hitting WR Terence Scott on a screen pass that went for 60 yards and a touchdown on the Ducks' second drive. With a young team on the road in a hostile environment, it was not the start the Husky coaching staff was looking for.

To their credit, the Husky defense made some adjustments after the first two scoring drives, and went back to their more typical base 4-3 look. They then managed to slow down the Ducks long enough to give the offense a chance to find itself. Early in the second quarter Locker found MIddleton over the middle for a 16-yard gain. It seemed to get the offense going. After a Locker run and couple more completions the drive ended with a 35-yard field goal from Ryan Perkins, and the Huskies sideline had some life.

Redshirt freshman Quinton Richardson quickly gave the Huskies even more momentum by picking off a Roper pass at the Washington 40-yard line, setting up the offense's first decent field position of the night. Locker and company answered the bell by driving the ball 60 yards on 13 plays, taking over 6 minutes off the clock. It ended with a 1-yard Paul Homer dive over the pile for a 14-10 ballgame. That drive is exactly the type of performance this Husky team will be hoping to replicate all season.

With the number of young players seeing action and the tough road environment, Washington had actually put themselves in a very good position at the end of the half, down only four. The feeling in the press box was that the Huskies had taken a couple of shots to the gut early but managed to stay standing and had come back with a puncher's chance. Adding to the good vibes was the fact that Roper had suffered a mild concussion late in the second quarter and would be out the rest of the game. With only two quarterbacks left to lead the Ducks and none with any Pac-10 experience, the mood in the locker room had to be optimistic.

With a little momentum behind them, the Husky defense came out and stuffed the Ducks on their first two drives to open the second half. However, when they decided to shift back into the 3-3-5 stack, it did not produce the desired results. The Ducks marched down the field and hit paydirt, giving them a 21-10 lead with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter. Washington could not generate any momentum on their next two offensive drives, but they had a chance to pin Oregon deep in their own end and play some field position. But the special teams gave up a big, confidence-crushing, 51-yard punt return to the Ducks' Jairus Byrd.

The defense did step up and bowed their backs to start the fourth quarter, forcing a field goal and keeping the game within two scores. But after another failed offensive drive, the habit of the Husky defense to give up big plays off busted coverages reared its ugly head again, and Oregon scored on big pass plays of 48 and 25 yards, putting the game finally and completely out of reach.

At that point Washington fans might have questioned the use of the 3-3-5 front, since most of Oregon's scoring drives came against it. However, you have to look a little deeper and realize it isn't the scheme but the missed tackles, miscommunication and poor angles taken by tacklers. It's something that Husky fans are used to seeing, and it can't feel good.

In spite of the changes made in coaches, personnel, and strategy, the Washington defense still gave up 44 points, 496 yards of total offense, big scoring plays of 60, 48 and 25 yards through the air, and an early 44-yard run. Take nothing away from the Oregon Ducks - they are a very talented bunch, with many explosive playmakers still on campus in spite of the departures of QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart. Yet Husky Nation cannot be happy with these results. Something has got to change and change in a hurry, as BYU will roll out a very explosive passing attack next Saturday in Husky Stadium.

Either the defense has to find a way to step up, eliminate mistakes and get more stops. Or the young offense has got to find some threats outside of Jake Locker so they can keep the Cougars offense on the sidelines. If they don't it could be another long Saturday for the faithful.


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