Scouts big winners as Ducks defeat 'Dawgs despite ho-hum day by Justin Herbert
At least from an NFL scouting perspective, virtually all of the hype leading up to the fierce rivalry Saturday between the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies focused on quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Jake Browning.
That isn't surprising given the importance of the position and the fact that Herbert, a junior, is almost universally viewed as the top NFL prospect among quarterbacks in the entire country and that Browning, a senior, is one of the most accomplished passers in Pac-12 history and checks in at 9th among QBs in the 2019 class, himself.
Occasionally Herbert flashed the exciting skill-set that prompted scouts (and myself) to visit Eugene before the season even began, but the Ducks took a big step towards winning the Pac-12 North title by defeating Washington 30-27 in overtime by winning at the line of scrimmage, not just because of their quarterback.
Browning, who has a well-earned reputation for running hot and cold, was actually the more consistent of the two passers on the day, completing 15 of 25 passes for 243 yards and touchdown, albeit with an ugly interception on the first snap from scrimmage.
Later, however, Browning showed his moxie, making tough throws under duress, including this one perfectly lobbed over the defender.
Unfortunately for Browning and the Huskies, his attempt at guiding Washington to a last-second win in regulation was for naught as redshirt freshman kicker Peyton Henry missed a game-winning 37-yard field goal wide right as time expired.
Frankly, while the victory surely was sweet, whatever critics Herbert had prior to this game likely were not convinced Saturday that the soft-spoken quarterback is fully ready for the NFL.
Herbert tossed two perfect strikes for touchdowns and was not intercepted but he earned a season-low 129.9 QB rating in the win, completing just 18 of 32 passes for 202 yards, overall. He was fortunate that at least two potential interceptions bounce out of the hands of Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy -- the most gifted defenders in a Washington secondary loaded with future NFL draft picks.
This throw - after buying time with his feet and keeping his eyes downfield - illustrate Herbert's prototypical combination of velocity and pinpoint accuracy.
When the Huskies were able to get him off of his preferred launch point, however, Herbert's accuracy waned.
For all of the attention paid on the quarterbacks, however, it was Oregon's ability to win other matchups that ultimately earned the upset victory over Washington, which entered the contest ranked seventh in the latest coaches' poll.
Over the past three seasons, the Huskies have learned to lean heavily on Myles Gaskin but the school's all-time leading rusher (4,663 yards entering the game) was knocked out of the contest with an apparent shoulder injury, robbing the Huskies of NFLDraftScout.com's third-rated senior running back. His backup - the speedier sophomore Salvon Ahmed - was also limited after suffering a hyper-extended right knee injury in the third quarter, making Washington a bit one-dimensional down the stretch.
Meanwhile, supporting Herbert was freshman running back CJ Verdell, who broke the century mark for the fourth time in five games this season, rushing for 111 yards and setting career-highs in carries (29) and rushing touchdowns (two), including the game-winner right up the middle in overtime.
Verdell found running room easier because of Oregon's massive and talented offensive line. True freshmen left tackle Penei Sewell may ultimately wind up being the highest drafted prospect from new Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal's re-stocked offensive line but stud center Jake Hanson and versatile right tackle Calvin Throckmartin (who played both right and left tackle in this game), both juniors, will beat him there.
Statistically-speaking, Washington rushed for more yards (194 to 177) overall and per attempt (4.3 to 3.6) but Oregon ran the ball when it wanted, including successfully in short yardage situations.
Washington, on the other hand, frequently allowed penetration up front, especially to the Ducks' dominant sophomore nose guard, Jordon Scott, a 6-1, 333 pound fire hydrant and stronger-than-he-looks defensive end Jalen Jelks, the Ducks' top NFL prospect on defense this year.
The Huskies, meanwhile, were led by undersized (albeit highly instinctive) senior inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (6-0, 221), who unofficially recorded 19 tackles -- though notably, none of them occurred behind the line of scrimmage.
While the 10 NFL teams which reportedly attended this game likely were hoping for splashier performances from the quarterbacks, impressive efforts by prospects at virtually every other position certainly made the trip to Eugene worthwhile.