3 takeaways from Washington's win over Oregon to claim the Pac-12 Championship
After Jackson Powers-Johnson recovered a non-fumble and ran it in for a non-touchdown, he yelled to the endzone camera. “Are you not entertained?” he asked as Oregon teammates filled the frame and, for a brief moment, celebrated a big-man touchdown.
It didn’t count, of course. Bo Nix was down before the ball was punched loose. But this was the Pac-12 Championship Game — the final Pac-12 Championship, the final Pac-12 game. Ever the entertainer, the Pac-12 went out in style.
No. 3 Washington went up big and the internet proclaimed No. 5 Oregon “cooked.” Then the Ducks roared back with 21 unanswered points. The conference’s much-maligned refs left their indelible mark as only they could. Nix and Michael Penix Jr. dueled like the Heisman candidates they are.
In the end, Washington emerged with a 34-31 win and, presumably, a spot in the College Football Playoff.
It was a championship fight with real stakes, real consequences, real energy. And, yes, we were all thoroughly entertained.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Washington wins the line of scrimmage
So much of the talk leading up to the game was about how Oregon — which lost the first meeting by three in Seattle — was the better team. Oregon was the more physical team. Oregon was the more impressive team.
And yet it was Washington that consistently won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.
Give the offensive line the game ball. They consistently set the edge for UW. They consistently creased runs. Dillon Johnson ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. And he did so with a bum foot.
No run was bigger than the third-and-9 scamper for 18 to ice the game. A stretch play was blocked beautifully. Johnson made the proper cut and a first down was easy.
This was a trenches game.
Yes, Penix threw for 319 yards and a touchdown. Yes, he hit a ton of chunk plays to keep drives moving.
But that offensive line protected him against a relentless Oregon pass rush. For a huge chunk of the first half, Oregon couldn’t sniff him. The line kept the Ducks at bay and Penix picked apart the secondary as a result.
When the pass rush started to get home early in the second half, the Huskies were able to lean on their run game to relieve the pressure. Oregon finished with two sacks. The Huskies still finished with more rushing yardage (157-124) than the Ducks — something few saw coming.
There was no running room for Bucky Irving, who had 20 yards on nine carries. Nix finished as the team’s leading rusher.
UW receivers shine, Oregon injuries take a toll
Oregon was already without one starting cornerback entering the game. Then its other starting corner was seen limping on the sideline. And its starting edge rusher was injured and forced out of the game in the first quarter.
As if the Huskies needed any help.
The UW pass-catchers were once again stars in Las Vegas. Jalen McMillan had nine catches for 131 yards. Rome Odunze had eight catches for 102 yards. Ja’Lynn Polk had 57 yards on five receptions.
The big three looked the part. After an injury robbed him of much of his season, McMillan looked fresh. With Oregon hampered in the secondary, there just weren’t enough seasoned players to contend with the Huskies’ star trio.
Penix made the right plays, save for one poor interception. He hit some laser beam throws to Polk in the fourth quarter on what proved to be the dagger touchdown drive — including a 25-yarder on the first play to kickstart the possession.
He hit a 45-yarder to McMillan in the second quarter and then a 31-yarder in the third quarter. When the Huskies needed big plays, Penix threw it up to his guys.
Odunze also drew a pair of pass interference penalties — one of them on a third-and-2.
That group was money for the Huskies all season. Fitting that they played a key role in Friday night’s win.
Oregon roared back after sluggish start
You have to wonder if this game might have looked different had Oregon’s offense resembled anything close to the one we’d seen in recent weeks during the first quarter.
After a 15-play, seven-minute drive from Washington to open the game ended in just a field goal, Oregon came out and threw three incomplete passes to give the ball right back.
Twenty-five seconds came off the clock. The defense was hung out to dry. And UW marched for a 50-yard touchdown drive in just under three-and-a-half minutes. Oregon went three-and-out again on the next possession to give it right back.
Washington went into the second quarter with the ball and a 10-0 lead. Oregon ran six first-quarter plays, gained 9 yards, and didn’t move the chains once.
The Ducks didn’t run the ball at all on their opening possession. Then on the next drive, facing a third-and-1, offensive coordinator Will Stein called an unsuccessful pass play.
UW was juiced after a quarter and Oregon’s defense was trying to catch its breath. It looked nothing like the Oregon offense that blitzed the back-half of the schedule. Stein tried to be too cute at times. Criticism in the first half was warranted.
Oregon scored in 90 seconds at the very end of the half — capped by an incredible one-handed catch from Terrance Ferguson — to cut the margin to 10. Then it scored on its opening drive of the third quarter to cut the margin to three.
The two sides exchanged interceptions and then Oregon, after stopping Washington on downs, scored another touchdown in 90 seconds to take a 24-20 lead.
All the momentum was on the Ducks’ sideline. This was the Oregon most expected to see. Nix finished with 239 yards and three score through the air with another 69 yards on the ground.
Had it not taken 30 minutes to arrive, would the Ducks have been the ones to build a big lead in the early going?
Hypotheticals don’t matter, of course. Oregon started flat. Washington came out gunning for a title. The Huskies played a more complete game, a complete role reversal from these two teams over the last six weeks of the season.