EUGENE, Ore. - The flash knockdown never came.
Neither did a one-punch knockout. Not even close.
So Saturday, as No. 1 Oregon watched Washington take a few shots – and return some, too – at Autzen Stadium, the Ducks resorted to waiting out the close calls before pulling away for a 53-16 victory in front of an Autzen Stadium-record crowd of 60,017.
Finally, a four-touchdown barrage in a 17-minute span in the second half turned a possible stunner into the runaway triumph many had expected, including oddsmakers, who installed the Ducks as 35-point favorites right before kickoff in the Pacific-10 Conference game.
The 37-point margin of victory was the largest in the Northwest rivalry’s series since 1977, when the Huskies won 54-0 in Seattle.
It was also the Ducks’ seventh consecutive victory over UW – a series record.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who has grander things to worry about this season – like the possibility of a BCS national title date in January, if things keep up – tipped his cap to Steve Sarkisian’s undermanned group, which was without starting quarter back Jake Locker.
“You have to give Sark a lot of credit – they came out hard,” Kelly said. “But we wore them down. You have to play a full 60-minute game. You don’t get a trophy at halftime. You don’t get a trophy after the third quarter.”
On the scoreboard, a 53-16 loss doesn’t seem much different than what happened to the Huskies (3-6 overall, 2-4 Pac-10) last week at home – a 41-0 drubbing by Stanford.
But what UW accomplished far exceeded last week’s effort.
A surprisingly stout Huskies defense – Oregon went almost 25 minutes to start without scoring a touchdown – and no crucial mistakes by backup quarterback Keith Price kept the Huskies in it.
But special teams finally did the Huskies in. UW trailed 11-3 when it came up short on Jesse Callier’s third-down run. For a moment, Sarkisian thought about going for it on fourth-and-1 from his 40, but elected to punt.
Returner Cliff Harris weaved in and out of tacklers and found daylight, only to be tackled by punter Kiel Rasp after a 30-yard return.
In two plays – Darron Thomas’ 17-yard pass to Jeff Maehl, and Thomas’ finishing 34-yard scamper – the Ducks (9-0, 5-0) had a touchdown, and an 18-3 lead with 1:37 before halftime.
“We knew coming in (Oregon’s special teams were good). It wasn’t a secret,” Sarkisian said. “We tried a variety of different kicks and things, but they’re going to take advantage of that because they’re good at it.”
On Oregon’s opening second-half drive, Thomas was hit from behind by safety Nate Williams, and defensive end Kalani Aldrich recovered.
The Huskies immediately converted the turnover into points on Price’s 17-yard TD strike to D’Andre Goodwin, cutting the Ducks’ lead to 18-13 at the 13:11 mark.
Suddenly, momentum was shifting, and both sidelines reflected it. UW players celebrated excitedly while the Ducks stared off into what-just-happened mode.
“I thought we were right there in it, and that’s what you want to feel like,” Huskies linebacker Mason Foster said. “It’s going to be like a heavyweight fight, and we were throwing blows with them. That is how you always want to feel. You don’t want to feel like you’re getting throttled.”
As quickly as they lost it, the Ducks regained the advantage when Josh Huff took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards before he was tackled at the UW 6.
Thomas struck on a scoring pass with Maehl to push Oregon’s lead to 25-13, and the Ducks took off.
“When we put a little bit of stress and pressure on them that kickoff return, I think, really took a lot of wind out of our sails, which is unfortunate,” Sarkisian said. “It really spun the game back in their favor and got their mojo going.”
Oregon piled up 522 yards by game’s end. LaMichael James, the nation’s leading rusher, finished with 121 yards and three touchdowns.
The Huskies need to win their final three games to become bowl eligible.