Washington ascends to role of Pac-12 power

EUGENE, Ore. — In the final moments, the stadium went eerily quiet. Most of the home fans were long gone. But even the few thousand visitors wearing purple weren’t so much celebrating as just standing around, more observers than revelers, as Washington finished up a 70-21 win against Oregon. It was a beatdown so thorough, even the Huskies’ fans seemed stunned.

“You’re thinking, ‘What more can they do?’ ” said Jeff Paschall, a longtime Washington fan who watched quietly during those last few minutes. “It’s like, ‘Get out, get it done, let’s just get out of here.’ ”

A few moments later, sophomore safety JoJo McIntosh was among the last few Huskies off the field, up the tunnel and into the visitors’ locker room. It was done. He was getting out of there, but he seemed almost as much perplexed as exultant.

“C’mon man! C’mon! That’s too easy!” McIntosh yelled. “It was too easy!”

It was exactly that. And it’s too easy to race right past the end of a 12-year losing streak to Oregon — it wasn’t so much snapped as shredded — to get to an even bigger picture. What did it all mean?

“I’m just glad I don’t have to talk about the streak or have to answer it,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “That’s probably the No. 1 thing I’ve been asked since the day I got to Seattle. That’s why I’m really happy, so I don’t have to answer that question.”

But here’s another reason Petersen should be really happy: In three seasons, he has completely rebuilt the Washington program. The evidence isn’t only what happened Saturday, which in large part was about Oregon’s continuing downward spiral, but eight days earlier, when the Huskies blew out Stanford 44-6. And if it turns out Stanford just isn’t very good (see Washington State’s 42-16 victory Saturday against the Cardinal)? Oregon and Stanford have combined to win the last seven Pac-12 titles, but this season they’ve combined to go 5-6.

Washington seems more ready to fill the sudden vacuum in the league’s power structure. Remember when the Huskies’ 4-0 start was hard to evaluate because of a pillowy soft nonconference schedule and an overtime escape at Arizona? Yeah, about that.

“It’s real,” junior receiver Dante Pettis said. “It’s not just hype. It’s real.”

Not many would argue. Not after sophomore quarterback Jake Browning accounted for eight touchdowns (six TD passes, two TD runs, a “ridiculously good” performance, according to Pettis) and the Huskies piled up 682 yards. Not after Washington’s big, fast defense started things off with Budda Baker's interception on the first play, which led very quickly to a touchdown, which led to so many more.

It was 21-0 after the first quarter, so very Oregon-like. When it was finally over, the Huskies had put up the most lopsided score in the history of the series and the most points on Oregon since 1941, when Texas scored 71.

Very quickly, the balance of power has turned upside down. Or maybe not quickly at all. Washington has won nine in a row going back to last season. But it hasn’t happened overnight. Petersen has built Washington in much the same way as he did Boise — though with far more resources, with better recruits and with a much higher ceiling. Washington was 8-6 in 2014, his first season after moving from Boise State, and 7-6 last year, when Browning learned as a freshman under duress.



“It’s been a while coming,” Petersen said. “Not this game but this team. … Sometimes it just takes a while.”

And then it happens, all at once and in a hurry. Suddenly the Huskies are 6-0, after hanging 70 on a rival — and resembling, more than anything, what that rival has been for so many years.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s program has been a short time unraveling. Two years ago, the Ducks played for the national championship. Now, after four consecutive losses — at 2-4, their worst start since 1986 — it’s clear the decline is very real, and unclear whether they’ve yet reached the bottom.

Looking for a spark, the Ducks started true freshman Justin Herbert at quarterback. The local kid from Eugene’s Sheldon High School held up pretty well, everything considered, and might provide some hope for the future. But Oregon’s offense remains a shell of what it was. The Ducks’ defense continues to be the much bigger issue.

“I apologize for that score,” coach Mark Helfrich said, adding: “It’s different than a normal loss, no question.”

It’s only one game in the series, and in the season. Time will tell if rivalry’s balance has shifted. But on both ends of the scoreboard, the result felt like something larger.

Before Saturday, the last time Oregon lost to Washington, Herbert was a Eugene kindergartner. He’s among many who had no real frame of reference. Not for the blowout that happened Saturday, of course — but not for a Washington win, period. That goes for Huskies, too.

Paschall, for example, was a freshman at Washington in 1991, when the Huskies won a share of the national championship. Back then, the series with Oregon was as lopsided in Washington’s favor as it has been for the Ducks in recent years. The city engineer for Springfield, Ore., adjacent to Eugene, he’s been an unwilling spectator as the series flipped on its head. The Ducks won by such large margins — and they accomplished so much else while Washington’s program was foundering — that as Paschall put it, “It wasn’t really a rivalry.”

Saturday, it finally was a rivalry again. And then, during those moments before the final gun had sounded, it suddenly felt like it wasn’t.

“Surreal,” Paschall said. “Unheard of. … (Washington) had been putting up 40 points, but 70? Pretty impressive.”

Petersen’s rebuild of Washington football isn’t finished, not by a long shot.

The Huskies look like easily the Pac-12’s best team, and maybe one of the best anywhere. But given that weak nonconference schedule and the chaos beneath them in the Pac-12 standings (quick, name the second-best team; now, how good is that bunch?), they might just need to win ‘em all to ensure a spot in the College Football Playoff.

“I think we’ve got lot of football — and they know this — we’ve got a lot of football left to play,” Petersen said. “We’ve got the meat of our schedule, really, to play. … If we can stay relatively healthy and keep practicing hard, and those are two hard things …”

He didn’t finish. But maybe the Huskies can.

Washington 70, Oregon 21 sent a very loud message in a very quiet stadium.

“We’re a very, very good team,” junior receiver John Ross said.

It’s not just hype. It’s real.

Copyright 2016 USA TODAY Sports


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