The game was different from the first score Saturday when Huskies QB Jake Browning was busted for taunting. That was as unexpected as manners from Donald Trump. The usually deferential Browning didn’t know it, but he was channeling thousands of Huskies fans, 12 years deep into their sorrows against the Oregon Ducks.
A rare glimpse of immodesty from Browning — pointing a finger in the face of a Ducks defender as he crossed the goal line — foreshadowed a national-class humiliation of the archest of Huskies rivals in once-forbidding Autzen Stadium crucible in Eugene.
The 70-21 win was so done so early that the final three quarters were weirdly absent of drama.
Browning afterward was foot-shuffling contrite about his exuberance.
“It’s the rivalry,” he said. “It’s not who I am or how I play . . . I’m kind of embarrassed.”
No one among the purples will hold it against him. Indeed, in the annals of the quarterback position at UW, he had one of the greatest games in a pinnacle moment — a school-record six passing touchdowns and two more on the ground, plus 22 of 28 passing for 304 yards — to help end a most aggravating streak against a most aggravating opponent.
It also climaxed a three-year odyssey for coach Chris Petersen, who at his first press conference upon his arrival from Boise State was hit with the question: When are you going to beat the Ducks?
“I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question anymore,” he said. “You know how I am with questions. I don’t like them. I don’t have to answer that one any more.”
Ranked fifth with the only undefeated record in the Pac-12 Conference, Petersen doesn’t have to answer many questions, just accept handshakes, hugs and backslaps. In the three conference games, his team scored 35 points at Arizona, 44 against Stanford at Husky Stadium and a stupendous 70 in the Willamette Valley, a total that missed by two points the most ever scored on an Oregon team.
“This was the most important game of the year — because the next game always is,” Petersen said, offering a bit of a fake by starting with a suggestion that he treated this game as more important. He’ll never admit to it, but sequestering his players away from interviews in the run-up to the game was a small indication that he understood the importance of the outcome to generations of Huskies fans.
He had to create in his team an emotional peak in consecutive weeks against quality teams who had dominated Washington (Stanford had won nine of the previous 11 in the series). He did it masterfully. But it wasn’t a product of two weeks’ planning. Beating Stanford and Oregon was the culmination of a three-year grind that Petersen insisted upon since the first question about beating the Ducks.
“We felt this team coming last year,” he said. “We knew we were so young at so many critical positions, and this is a tough league. We would execute with precision on occasion, but not consistently.
“When you work harder than you’ve ever worked, we kept telling them it’s coming. From January on, these guys have been on a mission. Winter conditioning, spring ball, they’ve done what we’ve asked them to do: Practice hard, stay focused and stay humble.”
As spectacular as were the pyrotechnics on offense, it may have been a defensive play that epitomized what Petersen was talking about. Ahead 21-0 in the second quarter, Washington was getting a strong push from the Ducks.
RB Royce Freeman, a 230-pounder likely to go high in the NFL draft in April, had gained 169 and 138 yards in the two previous victories over UW. He was at it again, rumbling for 22 yards down to the Huskies six-yard line.
But S JoJo McIntosh swept in and ripped the ball from Freeman. Teammate Keishawn Bierria recovered. Shortly thereafter, it was 28-0.
“Our guys have been so good at creating turnovers,” Petersen said, referring to UW leading the nation entering the game in takeaways (15) and turnover margin (plus 2.2). “Every coach preaches that. But we needed to create them — we’re not looking for (opponents) to give us anything. We needed to pop that ball out.
“These guys have taken that to heart. It’s awesome when they’re playing like that.”
Awesomeness began on the Ducks’ first scrimmage play. Oregon chose to give a true freshman, 6-6, 225-pound Justin Herbert, his first career start, benching fifth-year senior transfer Dakota Prukop.
The judgment went haywire immediately when Herbert tried a pass into a tight window and was picked by S Budda Baker, who returned the ball 15 yards to the Ducks 30. Washington scored three plays later on Browning’s finger-wagging one-yard run.
“Herbert is going to be a great player — no question he has great tools,” Petersen said. “I think the pass was a little behind (the receiver) and one of our guys hit him and the ball popped. That’s a hard way to start.”
It stayed hard all game. Not only was defense overwhelming to Herbert and Freeman, the UW offense flashed weaponry reminiscent of the Chip Kelly-led Ducks, who could score fast and often with multiple players.
In the third quarter up 42-14, Washington scored on consecutive drives that took 1:17 and 1:35 to cover 145 yards. Classic Oregon football, only it was Washington doing it without the spread formations, by beating their foes at the line of scrimmage.
They did it without two offensive starters, WR Chico McClatcher at RG Shane Brostek, who were late scratches because of injuries.
The Huskies flashed depth to go with speed, power and tenacity and versatility. It’s Boise State all over, only with more talent.
They have proven it against their primary nemeses. Critics will say that neither Oregon nor Stanford, which was clobbered at home 42-16 by Washington State Saturday, are what they were.
True. Nor is Washington.