Micah Rice: Ducks remain an unflappable bunch

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

SEATTLE — Saturday was the day Husky fans hoped would change the equation of Northwest football.

Instead, Oregon used its standard formula to reassert its dominance over its rivals to the north.

"Win the Day," Oregon's mantra the past five years, became "Win the Decade." In beating UW for the 10th straight time, the Ducks showed the unflappability that separates a BCS title contender from one trying to reassert itself on the national stage.

In a packed Husky Stadium cranked to Volume 11, Washington entered the game hoping to ride a wave of emotion to a program-elevating victory.

But what makes the Ducks so impressive is the cold, unemotional ruthlessness with which they terminate an opponent's chances. The Ducks didn't blink in a game that saw Washington become the first team this season to hang with the Oregon into the fourth quarter.

Pull back the metallic feathers on the Ducks helmets and you might find microchips and wires.

How else do you explain an offense that seems made of replaceable parts instead of players? Top playmaker De'Anthony Thomas sat out a second straight game injured. All-conference tight end Colt Lyerla left the team a week ago. Yet, the offense still rolled up 631 yards.

How else do you explain a quarterback who has thrown 17 touchdowns and no interceptions this season? Marcus Mariota led an offense that answered every big Husky play with one of its own.

How else do you explain the Ducks unflappability in hostile environments? Oregon hasn't lost on an opponent's home field since falling at Stanford in 2009.

"Whenever we come out on the field we feel no pressure," said Mariota, whose last interception came 233 passes ago against Stanford last season. "We go out there with all the confidence in the world."

Bishop Sankey's 60-yard touchdown run on fourth down had the looks of a momentum changer. It pulled the Huskies within 21-14 early in the second half. Many movie scripts would have that be the big play that sparked UW to a second-half rally.

That plot did not compute for Oregon. Mariota dialed up a 65-yard touchdown pass to Josh Huff, who spend much of the first half sidelined with an injury. Whatever treatment he received was like a tuneup that had him firing on all cylinders in the second half.

Ultimately, Oregon turns close games into blowouts because its opponents end up being all too human. Washington's three turnovers were a killer on a day when it couldn't afford them.

Washington, tensing up in the fourth quarter, began throwing the ball despite Sankey averaging nearly six yards per carry.

"We were at our best when we were able to run and throw it," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "But ultimately, when we got one-dimensional they pulled from us."

You can marvel at the eye-popping statistics, the Usain Bolt-inspired offense, even the resilient defense that held Washington more than 200 yards below its season average.

What might be most impressive is the poise, focus and unflappability of a team that believes it determines the outcome every game regardless of the opponent.

"Trusting in our preparation is the thing we believe in," coach Mark Helfrich said. "We try to keep it the same from a routine standpoint whether we're at home or on the road."