If there is one small amount of progress that was made in the 45-24 loss to Oregon (and it’s not something Husky fans will be trumpeting to the heavens), it’s that the loss was not a blowout. The Huskies were within a single touchdown at the end of the 3rd quarter. Now, Oregon snatched that opportunity away quickly and decisively in the 4th quarter, but this game would have been over in the first fifteen minutes two, three, or four years ago.
So what made the difference? Well, Price showed tremendous grit in playing through Oregon’s heavy defensive pressure, but his final stats were pretty pedestrian. That was partly on Oregon’s defensive line, who owned the line of scrimmage for pretty much the whole night, and it was partly on the Oregon defensive backs, who are the best in the conference. To flip that coin, Washington’s offensive line and receiving core also deserve some blame, but against a team as talented as Oregon, a unit doesn’t necessarily have to play poorly to be outplayed. I would say that the offensive line did play rather poorly, while the receivers were more uninspiring than they were straight up bad.
The defense was, as a whole, disappointing as well. They did hold Oregon a few times, but when it really counted Mariota picked up huge chunks of yardage with his arm, and it looked easy. Late in the game when the Ducks began to pull away for good, I witnessed corners Greg Ducre and Marcus Peters, as well as linebacker Shaq Thompson, make horrible plays defending the pass. Peters in particular was badly beat in the end zone on a simple shift of the hips by Bralon Addison.
In the end, it was really Bishop Sankey that kept this game from getting ugly way, way earlier on. When Oregon scored the first touchdown, it was Price that connected with Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the score. But at the start of the 3rd quarter, with the score at 21-7, teetering on the edge of finality, it was Sankey that broke a 60-yard touchdown sprint on 4th and 1. Oregon answered, and Sankey carried the ball six times for 27 yards on the ensuing field goal drive. Another Oregon touchdown made it 31-17, and of course, Sankey answered with a highlight-reel score from the Oregon 25.
Sankey wasn’t facing Oregon 1 vs. 11. His offensive line has to get some credit for run-blocking. They performed far better in that capacity than they did protecting Price in the passing game, but my impression watching the game was that his line was doing enough to get him a few yards, and he was doing the rest largely himself with his outrageous balance and vision and his above-average strength, speed, and agility.
28 carries for 167 rushing yards, five receptions for 38 receiving yards, and two rushing touchdowns. We can’t know for sure how Washington’s offense would have done more in the passing game, or even with a backup like Jesse Callier, if Sankey had struggled. Maybe Price would have thrown for a 59-yard touchdown pass if Sankey had converted 4th and 1 by inches instead of running 60 yards for a touchdown. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves, Sankey’s 205 total yards and two scores kept this game respectable. Without his performance, Saturday afternoon would have been far uglier for Husky fans.