EUGENE, Ore. — Washington’s offense looked quite at home in Autzen Stadium.
Literally, Kalen DeBoer’s team wore purple jerseys and pants – a look usually reserved for Husky home games – during the 114e meets Pacific Northwest rivals on Saturday. A conspiracy theorist might attribute this choice to the road crew’s comfort within notoriously hostile confines.
But UW’s offense — aside from an untimely turnover — spoke loud enough in Saturday’s stunning 37-34 upset victory.
And after a four-year wait, Peyton Henry delivered redemption.
Henry – who missed a 37-yard field goal that would have sunk Oregon at the end of regulation in an eventual 30-27 overtime loss in 2018 – drilled a 43-yard drive with 35 seconds left to beat the Ducks #6 Saturday.
“That (Miss Oregon 2018) is always on the mind, mostly because when people think of me, they think of that kick,” Henry said Saturday night, as fans yelled, “Let’s go Huskies! ” chants outside the Autzen stadium. “So hopefully they remember me for that kick.”
Michael Penix Jr. also produced a performance Washington fans won’t soon forget – completing 26 of 35 passes (74.3%) for 408 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, dueling the elusive quarterback of Oregon Bo Nix.
“Even in the hotel, he was just locked up on another level,” DeBoer said of his redshirted junior quarterback. “When you have a great week of training and that intensity and focus is as high as it is for Mike – and really the whole team – that’s why special things happen. You have to put in extraordinary effort all week in preparation, and he did.”
UW’s offense was special, right from the start. After Washington won the toss and elected to host for the first time this season, Penix and Co. produced a 12-play, 75-yard drive — courtesy of a critical third conversion. On third-and-14 from the Husky 44-yard line, Penix took a shotgun blast, swung away from the unblocked edge DJ Johnson and climbed along the left sideline for a 15-yard gain .
That set up senior tailback Wayne Taulapapa, who picked up a hand and squirted through a holeshot for a 13-yard touchdown – benefiting from blocks by right tackle Roger Rosengarten and right guard Henry Bainivalu.
But UW’s opening statement preceded a pair of missed opportunities. The Huskies stalled in the red zone twice in the first half, settling for Henry’s field goals from 30 and 27 yards. Sophomore running back Cameron Davis was stuffed on both counts – a 1-yard run on the third-and-two of the 8 to end the first quarter, and a winless catch on the third-and-four of the 10 at the end of the second.
Field goals don’t win rivalry games – especially against the nation’s No. 6 team, as well as the No. 3 offense (43.1 points per game).
But the turnover numbers certainly help.
Speaking of expensive red-zone snafus, the Ducks produced one of their own. Trailing 10-3 early in the second quarter, Nix first split wide – teasing a trick play – before lining up under center. On third-and-one from Husky 4, the lead caller fumbled the ensuing snap, and he was thrown forward, before linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala fell on it at the 1-yard line.
But when the Ducks didn’t fumble, the UW defense could barely compete.
Oregon’s running game – which entered the game ranked fifth in the nation in yards per rush (5.81) and 11e rushing (231.22) – Predictably outplayed, rushing for 312 yards and 6.1 yards per carry. Running back Bucky Irving had 143 yards on just 19 carries (7.5 yards per carry), bouncing off weak tackle attempts. Nix had a 10-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10-10 late in the second quarter, finishing with 59 yards and 6.6 yards per rush.
But after trailing 13-10 to start the second half, Nix’s arm cut UW even deeper.
Auburn’s transfer unwound a pair of long touchdowns in the third quarter, exposing a Husky secondary that lost starting cornerback Jordan Perryman in UW’s opening defensive drive. He escaped a Bralen Trice sack long enough to throw a deep ball to wide receiver Dont’e Thornton – who had sprinted past nickel Dominique Hampton – for a 46-yard score that gave the Ducks a momentary 17-yard lead. 13. And at the end of the third, he rolled right and hit wide receiver Troy Franklin – who beat true freshman corner Jaivion Green, Perryman’s backup – for a 67-yard touchdown. Sophomore Noah Whittington fired on a 29-yard touchdown run between the two.
And yet, in the middle of the barrage, UW’s offense continually responded. Trailing 17-13, the Huskies mounted a 10-play, 65-yard drive – culminating in a 3-yard Davis touchdown run. Leading 24-20, Penix uncorked a ruthless rainbow under which receiver Ja’Lynn Polk centered for 76 yards.
“It was (offensive coordinator Ryan) Grubb. I can’t even lie,” Penix said of the pass to Polk. “It was a staring game. We looked to the sideline and he called this play after he saw we had the look we wanted. I saw it too, so I already knew. I was ready to go celebrate.
But behind 31-27, the celebration came to an abrupt halt.
Penix capped an 11-play, 98-yard walk with a colossal error – forcing an interception from linebacker Jeffrey Bassa on Oregon 1’s first and goal. The Ducks then reeled off a methodical 20-play, 91-yard streak, 10 -minute and 33 second drive – although it ended with an ominous thump.
On third-and-five of the 10, Nix sprinted past a crafted keeper and was stoned by safety Alex Cook for a 2-yard gain. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound quarterback was hurt on the play – and rather than going in fourth-and-third to seal the win, Oregon settled for a 26-yard field goal to extend his lead at 34-27.
This was a short track. Third-and-seventh from the UW 38-yard line, Penix ducked back and found wide receiver Taj Davis sprinting along the left sideline for a stunning 62-yard score that tied the game at 34-34.
“It was just a start route outside and an exit route. I just have to read the corner,” Penix explained. “If the corner has bitten on the exit lane, I run the start lane. That’s all it was. I threw a punch. I knew they were trying to go with a little cover-2 look. Security couldn’t get there, so I thought, ‘OK!’ »
With true freshman quarterback Ty Thompson for Nix, the Ducks were unable to respond. Oregon went there in fourth-and-one on its own 34 … and Whittington slid to the turf for a disastrous one-yard loss. Henry coolly connected on a 43-yard field goal four plays later, shaking his fist in the same stadium that hosted his most heartbreaking error.
“We got the save on fourth down and I knew it would come down to at least one field goal,” Henry said. “I didn’t know the distance, but I was going to be ready anyway. I believe everything happens for a reason, so I’m glad we’ve come full circle and we can win the game tonight.
Nix – who completed 19 of 27 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns – returned in time for the Ducks to mount a desperate practice. The Husky 38’s first-and-10 with six seconds left appeared to find wide receiver Troy Franklin for 15 yards – but a controversial illegal contact penalty on Franklin canceled the play. Oregon’s Hail Mary at the time expiration fell incomplete.
At that time, at their home away from home, the Huskies threw an impromptu house party. Tight end Devin Culp made imaginary snow angels on the “O” in midfield. Athletic Director Jen Cohen shouted “Go Dawgs!” in stands that empty quickly. Wide receiver Jalen McMillan sprinted from one end zone to the other, a fearless and delirious Dawg.
“Man, that’s a feeling you can’t describe,” said McMillan, who led the Huskies with eight catches for 122 yards. “We’ve been through so much as a team and as a brotherhood. So this W means everything to us. We have always worked for this.
That’s how long Husky fans will likely remember it.
“It means so much because I give our players a great experience,” DeBoer said. “They are going to talk about this in 10, 20, 30 years. Hopefully Husky Nation is too.