CORVALLIS, Ore. – The decisions made the difference.
It was fourth-and-1 on Washington’s 39-yard line, with 4:23 remaining in the second quarter of the Huskies’ 19-7 win at Reser Stadium on Friday night. The Husky offense looked lethargic, with 107 total yards in five uninspiring and abbreviated drives.
They had managed three punts, an interception and a 47-yard field goal. Jacob Eason was erratic, the running game was ineffective and the game plan almost certainly hadn’t called for a heaving helping of penalties and punts.
So UW head coach Chris Petersen defied conventional logic. He decided to go for it.
And it worked.
Following an Oregon State timeout, Eason stretched his gangly 6-foot-6 frame across the pylon for a successful sneak on fourth-and-1. He then hit tight end Hunter Bryant up the seam for a 40-yard gain. Three plays later, junior running back Salvon Ahmed plunged up the gut for a six-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 10-0 lead.
When Washington took risks, they paid off.
When Oregon State took risks, they fizzled.
Take the end of the first half, for example. Facing fourth-and-4 from his own 45-yard line, Oregon State head coach (and former Washington offensive coordinator) Jonathan Smith decided to go for it. Redshirt senior quarterback Jake Luton promptly threw just his second interception of the season, as junior nickelback Elijah Molden jumped a slant and secured his second career pick.
Oh, and Smith decided to roll the dice to kick off the second half as well. The Beavers attempted an onside kick … but Husky safety Alex Cook, a converted wide receiver, effortlessly caught the ball and took a knee. UW promptly grinded out an 11-play, 39-yard drive that resulted in a 33-yard Peyton Henry field goal.
Oregon State finished with just 119 yards of total offense and notched just 8 yards in the entire second half. The last game UW held an opponent below 200 yards was in last season’s Pac-12 championship game against Utah when the Huskies held the Utes to 188 yards in a 10-3 win.
But, no, the Dawgs were not on the right side of every significant decision. For the second consecutive week, Eason whipped a fluttering pass to the far side of the field. And for the second consecutive week, the defensive back jumped an out-route and took off for a touchdown.
This time, it was Oregon State nickelback Jaydon Grant, who jumped wide receiver Aaron Fuller and streaked 36 yards to pay dirt with 7:01 left in the third quarter. Eason turned in perhaps his most underwhelming performance of the season, completing 16 of 32 passes for 175 yards and a pair of interceptions.
But wait, did we say the decisions made all the difference? That’s true, but let’s add to it:
The defense made the difference.
Yes, that defense. The inexperienced, inconsistent, occasionally underwhelming defense that disintegrated late against both Oregon and Utah. The defense that struggled to put four complete quarters together in conference play.
On Friday, that defense held Oregon State — which ripped off 56 points and 572 total yards against Arizona the week before – to 115 total yards and forced nine punts. It secured five tackles for loss and four sacks, including two by outside linebacker Joe Tryon.
Ahmed’s 60-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter essentially sealed the deal. The 5-foot-11 back out of Juanita High finished with a career-high 174 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts.
But the defense, and key decisions, were the difference in UW’s eighth consecutive win over Oregon State.
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