By Rick Lund
Rick Lund is a news-page designer and former sports designer and assistant sports editor for The Seattle Times. He is a longtime follower of Husky sports.
As the clock wound down on Oregon’s 45-24 victory over Washington last Saturday, a pocket of Ducks fans in the southeast corner of Husky Stadium broke into a loud, prolonged cheer.
The cheer had nothing to with the action on the field or even a Phil Knight sighting. A solitary duck was gliding high above the end zone, as if reveling in another Oregon victory beneath its wings.
That soaring duck was symbolic of where the Oregon football program is right now. Just as the unflappable Marcus Mariota rose above UW’s defensive pressure and a hostile environment, the Oregon program also is in a different stratosphere. They have superior athletes. And even though renovated Husky Stadium trumps Autzen, Oregon’s other facilities are better.
I’m not smoking Quack here. As a lifelong follower of Husky football, this is hard to admit. But it’s reality.
Oregon lost three players in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL draft – two on defense – yet the Ducks’ endless supply of talent is the envy of the Pac-12. Oregon’s defense may be even better than last year’s, and for the most part Saturday it bottled up UW’s high-powered offense.
On offense, injured star running back De’Anthony Thomas wasn’t needed against the Huskies. Backup Byron Marshall rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns. Imagine what Washington’s offense would have looked like Saturday without Bishop Sankey.
Washington’s vastly improved defense stuffed Oregon’s ground game for most of the first half. But Mariota could have paddled a kayak to Honolulu and back while waiting for the Huskies’ pass rush to get to him, and his receivers often were alarmingly wide open. When Washington defenders finally forced the multi-talented quarterback from the pocket, he took off with sprinter’s speed for sizeable gains as Husky fans seated around me spewed expletives.
Washington is making progress under coach Steve Sarkisian. But it’s playing catch-up to its rival from the south. While the Huskies are considerably better than their teams that were largely manhandled by the Ducks over the past 10 years, they’re chasing a moving target.
Oregon has gone from perennial Pac-12 contenders to national-championship contenders. I’d be shocked if they didn’t win the national title.
Like that lone duck flying high above the end zone last Saturday, the Ducks just keep soaring to new heights.
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