It was a Hollywood script gone north.
The star quarterback suffers a setback, but still finds a way to get his team into position for the game-winner over an archrival. No. 6 Oregon and its Heisman Trophy candidate Bo Nix were all set to see just such a moment unfurl at Autzen Stadium.
The problem for the Ducks?
It was No. 25 Washington and Michael Penix Jr. who put the pen to paper and acted it all out on Saturday night, all but ending their rivals hopes of making it to the College Football Playoff with a wild 37-34 upset in the process down in Eugene.
Nix, who threw for 280 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns, was excellent most of the game, but failed to pick up a critical third down draw with 4:04 left in the final quarter and things hanging in the balance. To make matters worse, he took a helmet directly to his right leg and needed assistance to gingerly make it off the turf.
That was just the opening that Penix Jr. and the Huskies needed, and they took full advantage of it. Just three plays into the next drive, the Indiana transfer uncorked a beautiful bullet along the sidelines directly into the hands of sophomore Taj Davis, who took it 62 yards to the house on what would be his only catch of the contest (and a memorable one at that) which tied things up at 34 apiece.
The Ducks still had a shot, however, but Nix was still in the injury tent dealing with his leg injury. Backup Ty Thompson, a former top recruit, trotted onto the field, thrust into a big moment with national implications on the line. The redshirt freshmans lone passing attempt missed the mark during the drive and eventually brought up a fourth-and-short at their own 34-yard line.
First-year coach Dan Lanning, who has been aggressive all season, opted to go for it after picking up three previous short-yardage attempts on fourth down. That was with Nix in the game, however, using the seniors bruising size and power to muscle over the line for all of them.
Instead, it was all on tailback Noah Whittington (108 yards, one TD on 20 attempts), who was given the ball on a run up the middle out of the shotgun but saw his legs slip out from under him to turn things over on downs.
“Certainly not the result we hoped for,” said Lanning afterward. “This game 100 percent falls on me. Our players gave phenomenal effort.”
Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell eventually brought an end to the ensuing Washington drive in favorable field position, but Peyton Henrys 43-yard field goal sailed through the uprights for what eventually was the game-winner.
“Were just a team that always comes back and keeps fighting,” Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer said after the game. “It showed itself for four quarters.”
Penix, who threw a costly interception at the goal line earlier in the fourth quarter, wound up with 408 yards and two touchdowns through the air the most any Huskies QB had ever thrown for against their rivals in green and yellow.
“Its not like him to throw that interception,” added a smiling DeBoer given Penix would eventually get the team into the end three plays into their next drive.
The upset ended Oregons 23-game win streak at Autzen, which was the third-longest in the country and was one that started with a win over a ranked Washington side in 2019. The Ducks had dominated the rivalry of late with 15 victories in the past 17 games, but couldnt get the job done in the first meeting between the two new coaches on either side.
The loss also all but assures that Oregons College Football Playoff hopes are out the window given the rest of the competition for the final four spots nationally. Oregon can still win the Pac-12 and make it to the Rose Bowl come January but will need to beat No. 13 Utah at home next week, Oregon State in Corvallis, and then the winner of the USC-UCLA matchup that will take place next week, fittingly in Pasadena.
Land of Lanning
While some first-time head coaches might become a little more conservative as the pressure ramps up playing a bitter rival, that was not the case with Lanning. The Ducks head man remained aggressive as ever on Saturday night, belying the fact that his team was playing a ranked opponent or were riding an eight-game win streak that helped them also harbor tangible College Football Playoff aspirations.
In much the same fashion as he did in a big win over UCLA at Autzen last month, Lanning opted for a surprise onside kick in the first half. The attempt, which was narrowly unsuccessful, later led to points the other way, but you have to admire that the circumstances were not altering the decision-making process.
Some of Lannings thinking had to be the lack of defensive stops either side was able to make early in the game, while also noting that the Huskies werent exactly making a special teams allowance for the possibility and keeping an extra return man up front with an eye on the kicker.
The antagonistic thinking wasnt limited to the start of drives either. As time dwindled in the second quarter and Oregon was driving around midfield, Lanning called timeout on fourth-and-2 with 31 seconds left. Given that Washington had plenty of time to work and the nations best passing offense, it was certainly a gamble to go for it and not punt given the field position advantage going the other way.
Still, there was little hesitation as the offense stayed on the field and Nix scrambled up the middle on a keeper to just barely pick up the first down. Not many would have had the goods to go for it in such a spot but Lanning sure did. The Ducks wound up getting a field goal attempt out of the affair and, though it missed, at least a little momentum going into what must have been a fired up locker room.
Still, the impetus to go for it such spots came back to bite UO in the fourth quarter as Whittinghtons slip in his own territory all but gifted a field goal attempt for the Huskies in a tie game and what proved to be the winning points.
The best catch of the night? It may not have even been a catch.
Right after Oregons attempted onside kick before halftime, Washington coach Kalen DeBoer did what many coaches would do in such a situation hovering around midfield: take a shot at a big play. Off play action, Penix threw a bullet down the hashmarks that was aimed at Jalen McMillan. The receiver eventually came down with it, but not before Christian Gonzalez nearly snatched it over the top for a wild interception and one of the more remarkable plays of the game.
The Huskies quickly ran up to the line to run a play and prevent replay from taking a longer look, but its not often you see a wideout literally wrestle a defensive back to ensure a catch. The big gain of 34 yards later led to a UW field goal that proved to be the eventual three-point margin that the team took into the locker room at halftime.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer