Oregon’s College Football Playoff hopes went up in flames on Saturday night at the hands of Washington in a heartbreaking 37-34 loss.
And it was because of a very questionable decision by the Oregon coaching staff.
With the game tied at 34-34 with 1:30 left in regulation, the Ducks decided to for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line. Ty Thompson was in the game at quarterback for the Ducks after starter Bo Nix exited with an apparent ankle injury.
With the backup in, Oregon ran the ball four straight times. The fourth of those runs went for a loss of one, resulting in a costly turnover on downs.
That decision and failed fourth-down try gave Washington the ball in Oregon territory. The Huskies gained only eight yards, but that was enough for Peyton Henry to drill a 43-yard field goal with 51 seconds remaining.
It proved to be the game-winner.
Penix, Nix go back and forth in epic second half
The game was low-scoring in the first half, but it turned into the back-and-forth shootout we all expected in the second half with Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix going blow for blow.
Washington took a 13-10 lead into halftime before the teams traded five touchdowns to open the third quarter. At that point, following a 67-yard bomb from Nix to Troy Franklin, Oregon had taken a 31-27 lead with 3:40 to go in the third.
On the ensuing kickoff, Washington’s Cameron Davis inadvertently touched his knee down at his own 1-yard line. That meant the Huskies would have to march 99 yards to go back in front.
Washington made it 98 yards instead.
It took 10 plays for Washington to advance all the way to Oregon’s 1-yard line, but that’s when Penix made a mistake. On a first-and-goal play, the left-handed quarterback rolled to his right and looked for somewhere to throw. With Oregon defenders closing in a hurry, it looked like Penix would simply throw the ball away and live for another down.
Instead, he forced one into traffic and was intercepted.
At the time, it looked like that decision from Penix would doom the Huskies.
Oregon’s ensuing possession began at its own 1-yard line with 14:27 remaining. The Ducks turned to their running back duo of Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington, and they plowed their way down the field.
The Ducks made it all the way to the Washington 10-yard line and dialed up a quarterback draw for Nix on a third-and-5 play. Nix, one of the best running quarterbacks in the country, was hit hard after a two-yard gain.
Not only was Nix short of the line to gain, he was injured on the play. While Nix hobbled off to the injury tent, Oregon’s Camden Lewis hit a 26-yard field goal to extend the lead to 34-27 with 3:54 to play.
It was a drive that lasted more than 10 minutes for Oregon, but Washington would need just 47 seconds to tie the score.
On third-and-7, Penix made an unbelievable throw to hit Taj Davis in stride for a 62-yard touchdown.
Washington scored so quickly that Nix wasn’t ready to return to the field. That put Thompson, a redshirt freshman, into the game in a high-pressure spot for the Ducks.
With Nix out, Oregon’s coaches leaned on the running game. This time, Washington was ready and got that critical fourth down stop that opened the door for Henry’s winning kick.
Nix would return for Oregon’s final drive. The Ducks advanced inside the Washington 40, but didn’t get close enough to give Lewis a chance to tie the game with his leg. The final play of the game was a Hail Mary attempt from Nix that fell short of the end zone, finally signaling the end of Washington’s incredible upset.
Penix finished the game with 408 yards passing and two touchdowns. On the other side, Nix threw for 280 yards, ran for 59 yards and had three total touchdowns.
What does this mean for Oregon?
Oregon opened the year with a 49-3 loss to Georgia before reeling off eight consecutive victories, all but one by a double-digit margin.
At 8-1 overall and 6-0 in Pac-12 play, the Ducks were No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings. If Oregon continued to win, it was going to stay in that national championship conversation. That came to an end on Saturday.
No two-loss team has ever reached the four-team playoff, so now Oregon will set its sights on a Pac-12 title. Oregon is one of four Pac-12 teams with just one loss in league play. Joining Oregon is USC, UCLA and Utah. Utah is set to visit Eugene next week.
Washington, meanwhile, is now 8-2 overall and 5-2 in Pac-12 play. The Huskies have Colorado and Washington State remaining on their schedule and are still in play to get to the conference title game.