Usually propped up by Oregon's offense, the defense arguably won a game for the Ducks on Saturday.
The Nick Aliotti-coached group, a work-in-progress in the first half of the year, put on its best performance of the season in holding Washington to 278 yards offense, forcing three turnovers and sacking QB Keith Price six times. Five of the six sacks came from the defensive line, and the Ducks also had 12 tackles for loss and held three-time 1,000-yard rusher Chris Polk to 80 yards (3.3 per carry).
"It's a team game," offers linebacker Josh Kaddu, "not one side of the ball ever wins a game for us."
But, the Huskies had a lot of confidence, offensively, going into the game. And, the Ducks made them work for their points, and did not give up big plays with the game being contested. Only with the Ducks leading 34-17 (the eventual final score) did the Huskies strike downfield, with backup QB Nick Montana inexplicably completing a 53-yard pass to Kasen Williams.
With the season's biggest game Saturday at Stanford, the Oregon defense couldn't have picked a better time to be playing its best.
"Whether it was our best effort ... it feels like it," a jubilant Aliotti said, after the game. "I'm very pleased."
The defensive line played well, led by Wade Keliikipi and Dion Jordan, particularly on pass rush. It's clearly a unit that has gotten better as the season has gone along. Linebackers Dewitt Stuckey, Michael Clay and Kaddu had good games. Safety Eddie Pleasant picked off two passes, and cornerback Terrance Mitchell had a great strip and fumble recovery.
"I feel good about our defense" coach Chip Kelly says. "It really means nothing if we don't go out and work again Monday.
"If they thought they were challenged this week, then crank it up a couple notches."
The Ducks play at unbeaten Stanford, 5 p.m. Saturday.
• Oregon is seventh in the BCS standings, behind Louisiana State, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Stanford, Boise State and Oklahoma and ahead of Arkansas, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
• The game between the Ducks (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) and Cardinal (9-0, 7-0) obviously has Pac-12 title and BCS implications. And, it must be big: ESPN's "College GameDay" will be at Stanford.
"We always get excited when you have big challenges," Kelly says. "It's the fun part of coaching and playing, to be in big games like this."
Kelly's thoughts on Andrew Luck and Stanford?
"He's the best quarterback in the country," he says, of Luck. "I don't know if you can get any better than that. He's as good as we'll ever face.
"It's not just Andrew Luck. They have an outstanding offensive line, maybe the best offensive line out there." And, running backs Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, as well as three good tight ends and receivers Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu make the Stanford offense potent and efficient; but, Owusu got knocked out of the Oregon State game, with status unknown.
The Cardinal have many offensive sets: with three tight ends, with six offensive linemen, with no running backs. "It'll be the most diverse offense we'll face," Kelly adds.
Kelly says the UO coaches will look at video of the 2009 loss at Stanford for scheme purposes, as well as last year's Duck win at Autzen Stadium, when the home team blew out Luck and the Cardinal in the second half.
"We got some pressure on Andrew, our guys were closer in coverage," he says, of the second half last season. "It's the team that executes the best that's going to win the game - every week."
Overall, the football coach with the 30-5 record adds: "Our kids are playing with great effort. We're going to make mistakes. If you can get your kids to play hard, and that's what our guys do, then we got a shot. ... It should be a heck of a game."
The Ducks have won 18 consecutive league games since losing at Stanford in 2009.
• Quarterback Darron Thomas started and won the UW game for the Ducks, finishing 13 of 25 for 169 yards and a touchdown (making it 21 games in a row with a TD pass) without an interception. But, he looked shaky at times.
Journalism 101 tells us that maybe the knee brace on his injured left knee hindered him, as it appeared to affect his mobility.
"It doesn't restrict me," Kelly says.
The football coach adds: "I thought Darron did a decent job. He really understands how to manage a game, gets the ball in the right kid's hands."
Thomas says his movement is "increasing. It's just going to get better and better, as more games go I'll get healthier and healthier, and normal." In the next breath he says, "I'm all the way back (from injury). Ready to go for Stanford."
Being pulled against WSU for backup Bryan Bennett, and then fending off questions about the quarterback controversy motivated Thomas.
"It made me work harder," he says.
• It almost seems like the Ducks try to lull the opponent into forgetting about tight end David Paulson. The senior had the play of the game Saturday, catching a third-down ball for a 34-yard reception that led to Oregon going ahead 31-17 in the third quarter.
"'DP' is one of the big-time receivers that we have," Thomas says. "Coming back to me in the huddle, he doesn't tell me to throw him the ball, but 'look my way.' I trust him, trust him with any ball I throw, high or low."
• Kelly says opposing teams have adjusted to UO's uptempo offense and conditioning, and they haven't been a big difference this season.
"We just go play," he says. "We win because we execute. I think teams are doing a decent job of rotating guys on defense. But the results are the same: We've won eight straight."
The UO football coach says the Ducks don't possess the best speed of Duck teams since he arrived in Eugene. But, clearly, the Ducks will pit their speed against the Cardinal.
• LaMichael James, UO's all-time leading rusher and TD maker, played with a big brace on his right elbow against the Huskies. He warmed up without it on, but decided to wear the brace for precautionary reasons.
"It didn't affect me at all," he says.
He rushed for 156 yards to become the first UO back with three 1,000-yard seasons, and Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas added to the run game in the second half against the Huskies. Barner had some big runs, and Thomas scored his team-leading 12th TD.
"We gotta find ways to get them the ball," James says. "We gotta get De'Anthony and Kenjon more touches. All of us on the same field next week - that'll be good for us."
Says Kelly: "LaMichael's our guy. We're going to see where he is; when he's tired, we're fortunate we can bring other guys in. We're going to ride (number) 21 as long as we can."