Canzano: Washington derails Oregon Ducks
Huskies upset Oregon at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon is going to have to live with the way it lost Saturday’s game at Autzen Stadium against the Washington Huskies.
Bo Nix ran one too many times.
The Oregon defense got one too few stops.
Dan Lanning blew a key strategy decision.
It was Washington 37, Oregon 34 on Saturday. Questions will swirl. Doubt will reign. Be certain, the Ducks are eliminated from the College Football Playoff conversation. And I’m eager to see what happens now.
• Nix is the UO franchise. He’s the Heisman Trophy candidate and leads major college football in touchdowns this season. Oregon did a marvelous job utilizing his skills this season. But we’ve all been here long enough (See: Justin Herbert’s collar bone and Dennis Dixon’s ACL) to understand that running the quarterback frequently is fraught with risk.
I don’t blame offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham for calling Nix’s number this season. It worked well. But we all knew there was a risk that Nix might suffer an injury.
The odds caught up to the Ducks in the fourth quarter at Autzen Stadium. Nix’s ninth carry of the game came on 3rd down and 5 in the red zone. He gained two yards, and appeared to tweak his right leg while being tackled. He left the game, then came back for the final series of the game. Nix wasn’t the same. We’ll see how he does in the coming days, but I’m left wondering what might have happened if Oregon had just put the game on his arm vs. his legs at the end.
• Dan Lanning is a first-time, first-year head coach. Saturday night was the 10th game of his head coaching career. We all knew we’d see some growing pains this season. They were evident with other inexperienced UO head coaches. Chip Kelly, for example, evolved before our eyes. Mario Cristobal fumbled away his first Pac-12 win. On Saturday, facing a moment of truth, Lanning kicked over the chess board.
The Ducks were tied, 34-34.
They had the ball, fourth-down and 1 on their own 34. There was 1:26 left. Defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi’s defense had been shredded by Washington’s offense. I understand the logic. Lanning didn’t want to give the ball back to UW. He put the game in his offense’s hands.
Noah Whittington slipped and fell for a loss.
“You can look back and say ‘we should punt there’ but you also feel that if you get that first down, you probably have a chance to go win the game,” Lanning said.
Give the Huskies credit. They took over on downs. But the decision gave UW’s offense a short field. That Nix came back for the ensuing last-ditch offensive possession, down by three points, doesn’t make the strategy look better.
• Oregon fumbled in the red zone in the first half. It couldn’t stop Washington’s passing game. There were mistakes. But let’s take some time to appreciate what coach Kalen DeBoer’s team did at Autzen Stadium.
It’s very difficult to win in Eugene.
Oregon had won 23 straight home games. It had the higher ranked team. It had Nix and a pile of depth at skill positions. The Ducks were a double-digit favorite, playing at home. When the game kicked off at 4 p.m. on Saturday, it was the 40th game this Pac-12 season where the home team was favored. The previous 39 home favorites were 38-1.
Make that 38-2.
“They played the more complete game,” Lanning said.
He’s right. Michael Penix Jr. threw for 408 yards. He was terrific. Washington made just enough plays to stop Oregon’s offense. The Huskies deserve a ton of credit for winning in a hostile environment.
All of this, brings us to the “What now?” portion of Oregon’s football season. The Ducks play Utah at home next week. Then, there’s a regular-season finale at Reser Stadium against Oregon State. Nix’s status is up in the air. The goal for Oregon now turns toward finding a way to survive and advance.
“I love that locker room, I’m proud of that locker room,” Lanning said after. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to play and that really falls on me.”
Lanning has to find a way to shore up the Oregon defense. It’s his area of expertise. I’m curious to see what he’ll do there. On offense, the Ducks may have to live without Nix. A conference title is still out there, if Oregon can win out.
A Rose Bowl, maybe?
Or is this season about to unravel?
Oregon’s failure to finish on Saturday goes down as a puzzling development. The game didn’t have to end in a loss. One too many quarterback runs. One too few defensive stops. A bad decision on fourth down. That’s football I suppose. Now, the Ducks get to decide how they spin out of it.
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