Ducks' defense looks stout heading into Stanford
The belief was that if Washington was going to threaten Oregon and ruin the prospects of a Pac-12 North showdown against Stanford, they needed to take advantage of a perceived vulnerability with the Ducks' defense.
One problem: Oregon's defense showed up with one of its more impressive performances of the season Saturday night. It was the kind of effort the sixth-ranked Ducks needed heading into next week's showdown against No. 3 Stanford and star quarterback Andrew Luck.
The Ducks' 34-17 win over the Huskies - their eighth straight in the series - again featured plenty of offensive highlights. LaMichael James looked fully healed from an elbow injury suffered early last month, running for 156 yards and a touchdown.
Darron Thomas wasn't fazed by his halftime benching a week earlier, throwing for 169 yards and a touchdown in his return to the starting role. And freshman star De'Anthony Thomas made his presence known yet again with a touchdown run and a big kickoff return in the first half.
But less obvious than the Ducks' offensive stars finding their traction was an effort by the Oregon defense that brought even more impact. Even coach Chip Kelly was left impressed.
''Yeah it may be, really, and I think we're young,'' Kelly said. ''But those kids keep getting better and better and better.''
Oregon forced Washington into three turnovers, including a pair of uncharacteristic poor decisions by Washington quarterback Keith Price. Eddie Pleasant was the recipient of both interceptions and Terrance Mitchell later ripped a pass out of the hands of Washington tight end Michael Hartvigson for a fumble.
Beyond the turnovers, the Ducks got constant pressure on Price. He was sacked six times - a season high for Oregon - and much of the pressure came with the Oregon front four.
''I thought our D-line really created a lot of pressure and with such an efficient quarterback like Keith you don't want to have to sacrifice coverage to get pressure,'' Kelly said. ''It's how the game plays out. If you're getting there with four, then you keep getting there with four. If you have to bring in that extra guy, then you have to sacrifice in coverages. Its how the game plays itself out.''
The play of the Ducks' defense in the first half was crucial considering how long they were on the field. Washington held possession for more than 23 minutes and ran 43 first-half plays. But the Huskies gained just 134 yards and only stayed close thanks to late touchdown that cut the Ducks' lead to 17-10 at halftime.
Then Oregon's offense took over in the third quarter, surpassing its entire first half totals in plays and total yards in just 7:47 of possession. Touchdown runs by Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas pushed the Ducks lead back to a comfortable two-touchdown advantage.
''You know, we needed to answer,'' James said. ''They scored and we needed to score, too. We started the tempo, and the offensive line started blocking really well, and we needed a spark and the offensive line really gave us the spark. They put us on their backs today.''
And the Ducks never let Washington star running back Chris Polk become a major factor.
A week after Polk rumbled for 144 yards and five total touchdowns against Arizona, the Huskies' workhorse earned all of 80 yards on 24 carries. Polk's longest run went for 14 yards, but 13 of his 24 rushes were for 2 yards or less.
With Polk unable to consistently break off 5- and 6-yard chunks, the Huskies couldn't control the tempo against Oregon's fast attack.
''That was a good running back, runs hard, and is hard to take down, needs everybody flying to the ball to take him down,'' Oregon's Josh Kaddu said. ''But he's a good running back and I think we did a good job slowing him down.''
The 278 total yards allowed by Oregon were the second-fewest allowed by Oregon since its opener versus LSU. But it was the first time the Huskies' offense was held under 400 yards since their season opener against Eastern Washington. In its previous three games against Colorado, Stanford and Arizona, Washington was averaging 493.6 yards.
Even though they shut out Colorado's offense just a couple of weeks ago, the Ducks entered the showdown against their border rivals with their defense being maligned after giving up nearly 500 yards and 40 minutes of possession a week ago at home against Washington State.
Now comes trying to shut down Luck and the Cardinal. Last year, Stanford scored 31 first-half points on the Ducks, then were shutout in the second half of Oregon's 52-31 win.
''We still control our own destiny for what we want,'' Oregon offensive lineman Carson York said.
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