EUGENE, Ore. — Take a deep breath, Oregon Ducks fans.
This one hurts — a lot.
A national ranking has long been in the rearview mirror, and even reaching a mediocre .500 record seems impossible with every passing week.
On Saturday, the sting was made even worse as the Ducks’ decade-plus dominance over the hated rival Washington Huskies came to an end.
Washington beat Oregon, 70-21, for the first time in the rivalry since 2003, and won at Autzen Stadium for the first time since 2002.
BOX SCORE: Washington 70, Oregon 21
The 70 points are the most allowed by an Oregon team since before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 — the Ducks allowed 71 to Texas on Dec. 6, 1941.
Clearly, these are two programs headed in opposite directions — the Huskies ranked in the top-five and eyeing a Pac-12 championship and more, and the Ducks looking like a team that might not win again in 2016.
“This is different than a normal loss, no question,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said after the game.
Calls for Helfrich’s firing are loud.
I would still give him one more full cycle of recruiting, spring practices and fall camp. But he might not get it.
He likely would not survive a 0-9 run through the Pac-12, and right now that is very possible. The Ducks are 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the Pac-12 and own a current four-game losing streak.
Oregon’s defense is not competitive at the FBS level. That’s a fact that defensive coordinator Brady Hoke can't change this season.
The only solution is better players, period.
It begins and ends with recruiting, and right now the Ducks aren’t attracting the talent they once did.
And losses like we saw Saturday night are going to do nothing to help recruiting.
“I wish we could have kept the streak alive because I know how much that means to everyone here,” said true freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, who made his first-career start. “It was not the way we wanted it to end, but we’ll build on it.”
Making the move from graduate transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop to Herbert was seen by many fans on social media as waiving the white flag for 2016.
Perhaps, but it was a move that Helfrich had to make.
You can’t keep doing things the same way every game when you’re 2-3. A change had to be made.
“I think he prepared great last week, and the biggest thing is our team needed a spark,” Helfrich said. “Not only our offense needed a spark, the team needed a spark. And two guys that handled it great were Justin Herbert and Dakota Prukop.”
Helfrich said that we can expect Herbert to be the starter for the foreseeable future.
“We’ll always reassess and compete,” Helfrich said. “But I would see that going forward, yes.”
Herbert looked like a freshman at times Saturday, but he also had good moments. He finished 21 of 34 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also was sacked three times.
But that was against a strong Washington defense, and he’ll learn.
And for those of you wondering, Helfrich said the plan is to redshirt quarterback Terry Wilson this season.
Right now, it’s all Herbert and Prukop.
And although I know Ducks fans are frustrated and probably don’t have a ton of faith in Herbert at the moment, remember that this experience is going to be incredibly valuable for him entering next season.
“I was definitely really nervous,” Herbert said. “It was fun being out there competing with those guys, but not the way we wanted it to end, but we’ll build on it.”
The rebuild is on, but there is little hope that it will get turned around anytime soon.
The Ducks just lost 70-21 to the Huskies — the sky is now falling at Autzen Stadium.