By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
Oregon fans are having deja vu after Saturday’s 36-33 loss to Washington in Seattle. They put up over 500 yards of offense, outgained the Huskies, and left the game shaking their heads asking “how did the Ducks lose that game?” while questioning 4th down decisions. Michael Penix Jr. came up with an insanely clutch throw down the left sideline for the crucial touchdown. Each team’s score was just one point different from last year’s game.
Kind of eerie, isn’t it? Another game that was a lot more fun for college football fans who had no dog in the fight. Let’s start with the questions that Dan Lanning had to answer in the postgame press conference.
Down 22-18 in a goal-to-go situation, Oregon went for it on 4th and goal knowing they would get the ball to begin the second half. I have absolutely no issue with that. If matters had gone well, the Ducks would have had a chance to build a two-possession lead. Lanning’s team last year was known for success in the “middle 8” of a football game–the last 4 minutes of the 2nd quarter and the first 4 of the 3rd quarter. They pulled away from several teams in that time frame last year.
My only objection was not letting Bucky Irving touch the ball once. Oregon had a timeout to work with. You can probably only run the ball for one play in that situation. Doing so on 2nd or 3rd down would have felt appropriate for a team that ended the day with just 3 rushing plays that went backward.
The second 4th down stop in the red zone didn’t really cost Oregon. Bo Nix missed a wide open Traeshon Holden, instead throwing an incompletion to Troy Franklin amidst good coverage. The Ducks’ defense forced a quick 3-and-out followed by a quick touchdown strike to Franklin.
The third attempt on 4th down was the most questionable decision to me. Sure, if Oregon converts that 4th and 3 they win the game. A punt from Ross James, who’s having a great season, likely puts Washington back towards their own 20 instead of near midfield. That’s a different task with a different swing of momentum for a defense that had allowed just 7 points in the second half to that point including a goal line stand. Does it guarantee a win? No, it does not, but I doubt Washington would have needed only 2 plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. I see and understand Lanning’s thinking, it just didn’t work out.
Though it felt like it on Saturday, the world has not ended. Nor has the Ducks’ 2023 season, it just got a bit tougher.
Washington will likely make the top 4 of the first iteration of the 2023 College Football Playoff rankings, as they should. They won the game. But for anyone believing in UW’s ability to win the Pac-12, make the CFP and perhaps go beyond, how can you not think Oregon is capable of doing the same?
I felt the game was a coin flip going into it that would likely come down to a couple plays that swung the outcome. That is how it played out, and sadly it didn’t go Oregon’s way. The Ducks are just as good of a football team as Washington, and they’re pretty clearly the two best teams in the conference. Oregon’s offense is balanced, explosive, and led by an outstanding 5th-year quarterback in Bo Nix. Plus, the defense was facing its biggest test of the season against UW’s talented receiving core. I thought they showed serious improvement from a season ago.
Michael Penix Jr. played all 4 quarters in this game and threw for barely 300 yards, about 100 below his season average. Oregon sacked him just one time but had more pressure than last year’s game. The secondary wasn’t letting Washington’s wideouts run free for deep shots, the Huskies were making a lot of contested catches. I thought Oregon’s DBs played really well, especially Trikweze Bridges who came in for the injured Jahlil Florence and made life difficult for Rome Odunze. Their goal line stand would have been the defining moment of Dan Lanning’s young coaching career if the Ducks had converted one of a couple 4th downs on offense.
The margin for error going forward is non-existent for the CFP, and razor thin for the Pac-12 title game. But does Oregon have a good enough team to get to either spot?
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.