Bygone, sagely Seahawks leader Chuck Knox once tested local football scribes about the key statistic in football. Some of his accidental pupils waxed wisely about punt hang times and fourth-down, go-for-it decisions, after which Knox, pausing for Olivier-like dramatic timing, stated with exquisite simplicity:
“The key statistic in football is points scored versus points given up.”
Stats, of course, can be deceiving. Partisans of the University of Washington football team Saturday perused the Husky Stadium tote board at halftime to observe that the Dawgs led convincingly in running and passing yardage and in first downs (13-8) against the hated Oregon Ducks.
Then there was that other halftime stat: Ducks 15, Dawgs 6.
It got even more confounding a couple of hours later, when the same tote board showed a final tally of UW winning convincingly in passing yards and first downs but, alas, lagging 43-19 in the final score, to leave the team at 3-5 with four games to play. During the aftermath, boy Husky coach Steve Sarkisian (growing less boyish with each 2009 setback) said nothing about a particular punt’s hang-time because there weren't any.
“[With] the blocked punt,” he said to reporters in reference to a critical second-quarter turnover that resulted in a UO score, “we just miscounted and we ended up doubling a guy and let somebody loose. That happens. That's how punts get blocked.”
(Grid scholars please reference Chuck Knox: “Punts get blocked when punts are blocked.”)
Typically a blocked punt doesn’t result in eight points. But the Willamette Valley Quackers have been risk-takers during their six straight wins over their northern rivals, so perhaps few were surprised to see UO line up for a quick two-pointer after recovering the blocked punt in the end-zone: Oregon, 8-3. The play hurt Seattle fans all the more because the Dawgs had wasted promising field position during the previous possession.
Speaking of field position, Sarkisian addressed another game-changing fourth-down decision. His club had let a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line devolve into fourth and short. Quarterback Jake Locker couldn’t find a running seam or an open receiver but he floated the ball anyway. A Duck player picked off the pass and Oregon had the ball on the Washington 20, leading to yet more UW fan contortions and another Duck score.
"I liked the play call,” Sarkisian said of the goal-line decision. “I liked what we had set up going in. It wasn't there. I thought we were going to be able to get Jake to the edge a couple of times today. Maybe we miscalculated their team speed in a sense, because there were times I thought we were going to get them to the edge, and he wasn't able to get there and they closed on him."
Team speed has been among the key reasons the Oregon program has excelled as Washington's has declined. Oregon, known for half a century for its track program, also has picked up sprinters for gridiron purposes. Everything about the 6-1 Ducks seems a half-step faster than the Huskies, especially given a UO offense that considers the huddle utterly unnecessary: a curio left over from a slower century.
Much had been made of Duck starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli being too bunged up from a knee injury to play at full speed (if at all). Masoli wasn’t exactly a blur at Husky Stadium but he did figure in three touchdowns, two through his own scrambling. Worse still: Masoli is just a junior and the Dawgs (with a week off before the Nov. 7 UCLA game at the Rose Bowl) no doubt will be seeing him again next year.
Walking away from Husky Stadium after the game as Duck fans reveled in the west stands, a few UW loyalists were musing about the best way for their favorites to regain command over the rivals from Eugene.
“All the Dawgs need are more good football players,” one said, echoing an immortal Chuck Knox axiom that may yet make it into Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations,” to wit:
“Football players win football games.”
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