It was supposed to be a memorable night for Washington, playing its final game in iconic Husky Stadium before it undergoes a major renovation.
Flash bulbs pulsed as the 1991 co-national championship team was honored on the field after the first quarter.
Videos of UW football past ran on the big screen throughout the night.
Oregon managed to spoil all the celebration with a 34-17 victory.
The Duck defense came out swarming, and Eddie Pleasant intercepted two Keith Price passes to set up the Ducks’ first two touchdowns.
On the second of those two scores, a 4-yard touchdown pass from Darron Thomas to David Paulson to make it 17-3, Paulson flipped the ball to the official nonchalantly — like, business as usual.
But Saturday night was anything but business as usual for the No. 6 Ducks.
They accomplished a couple things they had yet to prove they could do this season — win on the road in a truly hostile environment, and win because of, rather than in spite of, their defense.
The Ducks forced three turnovers and sacked Price six times.
“Our D-line really created a lot of pressure,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. “Those guys did a great job. They were all over the place tonight.”
Sure, the Ducks cruised to easy victories at Arizona and at Colorado, but those are not particularly tough places to play.
Husky Stadium, however, is far different. Saturday night — sorry, Duck fans — it seemed as loud as Autzen. The aging press box was shaking before the game, and just after Washington scored to make it 17-10 at halftime.
But the rowdiness of the home crowd of 69,407 did not faze Oregon, which earned its eighth straight win over Washington and its 18th consecutive conference victory.
The Ducks came into an eardrum-popping place and simply took care of business.
“We knew what it was going to be like,” Kelly said. “We play in a loud place ourselves.”
Was it a perfect performance? No. Were some Oregon weaknesses exposed? Sure.
Thomas again looked shaky. His blooper-worthy fumble — his arm went forward and the ball went backward — led to a UW field goal in the first half.
The Huskies kept it close well into the second half, but the Oregon defense came through when it needed to.
“We did some new disguises and they worked,” Pleasant said.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said in the week leading up to the game that his plan was for the UW offense to keep pace with Oregon’s — rather than play keep away.
He played keep away.
The Huskies dominated in time of possession — 35:59 to 24:01.
But despite all that time on the field, Oregon’s defense withstood a resurgent Washington offense, which features one of the nation’s premier running backs in Chris Polk (82 yards on 24 carries and no touchdowns Saturday night) and Price as an up-and-coming star at quarterback.
The Huskies were averaging 429 yards of offense coming into the game, and the Ducks held them to just 278 yards.
“I thought our guys did a good job of tackling,” Kelly said. “(Polk) is such a strong runner that he can run through you. But it always seemed like there was a ton of white jerseys flying to the football.”
A slow-starting Oregon offense looked better in the second half, opening the half with a 12-play, 90-yard scoring drive that gave the Ducks a 24-10 lead and left the cavernous, 92-year-old Husky Stadium hauntingly quiet.
The Duck defense then stepped up again, stuffing Washington on a crucial fourth-and-four at midfield late in the third quarter with Oregon holding a 31-17 lead. Later in that quarter, Oregon defensive back Terrance Mitchell stripped the ball from Husky receiver Michael Hartvigson.
So, was it the Ducks’ best defensive effort of the season?
“Whether it’s our best effort or not, it feels like it right now,” said Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.
The victory was a breakthrough for Oregon, just in time for the biggest game of the Pac-12 season, at least until the Dec. 2 conference championship game.
And after a lackluster 43-28 home win over lowly Washington State last Saturday, the Ducks needed to make a statement, and needed some momentum going into Saturday, when Oregon will travel to Stanford for a game that has been highly anticipated since the end of last season.
Oregon was eighth in the BCS standings coming into Saturday’s game, but that does not matter much until after the Oregon-Stanford game.
The two top-10 teams will battle for Pac-12 supremacy in Palo Alto, Calif.
Win, and Oregon stays on track for a Rose Bowl appearance and maintains an extremely slim chance at a return to the BCS title game.
Lose, and that goes away, as does likely an appearance in the Pac-12 title game.
“We’ve got a huge test this week,” Kelly said. “Going on the road is a real difficult deal.”
But now the Ducks know they can march into the most challenging of road stadiums and get a win.
Stanford Stadium is not known as such. But some of the dedicated Stanford students will no doubt take a break from their studies to cheer on their team this Saturday in Palo Alto. They — and by the way, also Andrew Luck — will make it tough for Oregon.
But the Ducks showed they could pass a challenging road test in Husky Stadium, ruining a historic night for a big rival.