In instant classic, Dan Lanning and the Oregon Ducks learn the grind has just begun
The Oregon Ducks went to Seattle and outplayed the Huskies. They also lost.
SEATTLE — There’s a dance to being best stationed on the sideline for the end of a big game. It’s all about jockeying for position, as players, coaches and administrators start rubbing elbows with the writers and photographers and the boosters who make their way down to the field for the final drives. There’s a flow to it — pick a spot, hope the action comes your way — and boy did Phil Knight ever have a vantage point for what should have been one of the most memorable moments in his own Oregon Ducks history.
How could it not be? Here his No. 8 Oregon Ducks were about to put the fork in the No. 7 Huskies in the only top 10 battle in 115 games between these two. Oregon, after trailing by 11 earlier in the second half, should have wrapped things up moments earlier with a goal line stop on fourth down. That gave the Ducks the ball, up four, with six minutes to play. And even as the ensuing Oregon drive stalled out around midfield right in front of Knight, with the way Oregon’s defense was playing, a simple punt on fourth down pinning Washington in its own end should, at the very least…
Oregon punter Ross James remained on the sideline. Bo Nix and the offense stayed on the field. Instead of punting and forcing the Huskies to travel, at minimum, 75 yards, the Ducks went for it. And instead of watching the coronation of a program he’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars — and decades — supporting, the Nike co-founder instead got to watch Nix’s pass fall incomplete to Tez Johnson.
“God damn it!” Knight bellowed, throwing his hands up.
There were still two minutes to play. The Ducks still led. But Knight seemed to know it was over.
Of course, two plays later, Washington scored for the 36-33 lead. A few more after that, Camden Lewis’ 43-yard try to send the game into overtime sailed wide right. And within seconds, any decorum to the sideline disappeared as swaths of Husky Stadium’s sold-out crowd had spilled onto the turf.
Knight was gone. A few minutes later outside of the Ducks’ locker room, the second-year coach he helped sign to the largest contract in Oregon history was left to sift through the wreckage: A winnable first loss of the season, one that put his biggest rival into the shotgun seat for the playoffs, was dialed up by himself.
“I think this game is 100 percent on me,” Lanning said. “I don’t think you guys have to look anywhere else but me.”
Glad we’re not wasting any time with the debate.