EUGENE — With its 12-game winning streak against rival Washington on the line Saturday at Autzen Stadium, Oregon turned to a true freshman starter at quarterback for the first time since Chris Miller took the field in 1983.
Sheldon High School graduate and hometown hero Justin Herbert got the nod over graduate transfer Dakota Prukop, who had started the first five games of the season.
Herbert got a rousing ovation from the Oregon crowd when he was announced as the starter about 25 minutes prior to kickoff, but his debut got off to an inauspicious beginning when his first pass was delivered behind receiver Charles Nelson and intercepted by Washington's Budda Baker.
Four plays later, the Huskies scored the first of their 10 touchdowns in a 70-21 rout of the Ducks that certainly felt a little bit like 12 years of pent-up frustration being unleashed all at once.
"The first couple drives were tough just kind of adjusting to the speed of the game," Herbert said. "They were really good at disguising their looks, they were really quick to the ball."
"He threw a couple plays that were big-time plays," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of Herbert. "The first throw, the biggest thing he didn't do was trust himself. Against that team ... his poise, his composure was excellent. We have to help him out across the board."
Despite Saturday's loss, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Herbert didn't disappoint, passing for 179 yards and two touchdowns in his first sustained action of the season. He earned one of the loudest cheers of the night in the second quarter when he scrambled around in the pocket and delivered an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tony Brooks-James for Oregon's first points of the game.
Herbert added a 21-yard scoring pass to Taj Griffin on a check-down throw in the third quarter, and the quarterback helped engineer a seven-play, 79-yard touchdown drive late in the third that ended with a 10-yard run by Griffin.
"A bunch of stuff to build off of and (we) just have to support him better all around," Helfrich said. "I thought the fans were phenomenal tonight, even late into the game when the outcome seemed imminent. I thought our fans were outstanding and I apologize for that score."
The last time Oregon turned to a true freshman at quarterback was Darron Thomas in 2008, but he didn't start a game that season. Miller was the last freshman to earn a starting nod for the Ducks, replacing injured starter Mike Jorgensen and ineffective backup Mike Owens toward the end of the 1983 season.
Miller led Oregon to a 16-7 win over Stanford in his first career start and eventually became a two-time Pac-10 all-star and a first-round NFL draft choice.
STREAK TALK: Oregon saw one streak end on Saturday while another one grew. Unfortunately for the Ducks, neither of those items were good news.
Washington's runaway 70-21 victory snapped Oregon's 12-game winning streak in the head-to-head series, which dated to 2004, and it also extended the Ducks' current four-game losing streak — the program's longest since losing four in a row to end the 2006 season.
"I wish we could have kept the streak alive," Herbert said. "It's not the way we wanted it to end."
The result was Washington's largest victory over the Ducks since a 54-0 whitewashing at Autzen back in 1977, and it was the most points the Huskies have ever scored against Oregon. The previous record came during a 66-0 win in 1974.
"This is different than a normal loss," Helfrich said afterward. "No question."
At the halfway point of the schedule, Oregon sits at 2-4 overall and 0-3 in Pac-12 play, the team's worst start since going 2-6 to open the 1986 season.
Washington, meanwhile, is off to its best start since opening 8-0 in 1992. The Huskies were Pac-10 co-champions that season and lost to Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
NELSON SETS RECORD: Oregon junior Charles Nelson set the program's career record for kick return yardage on Saturday with four runbacks for 52 yards. That moved Nelson past De'Anthony Thomas into first place all-time with 1,929 yards.
The Ducks' versatile offensive weapon also caught seven passes for 45 yards against the Huskies and continues to rank among the nation's leaders in a number of categories, including all-purpose yardage (172.2 per game).
DEFENSE STRUGGLES: Oregon's much-maligned defense had another rough outing.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning completed 22 of 28 passes for 304 yards and accounted for eight touchdowns — tying a Pac-12 record — and the Huskies also rushed for 378 yards to accumulate a staggering 682 yards of total offense.
That came on the heels of the Ducks surrendering 651 total yards against Washington State, 593 against Colorado and 428 against Nebraska — all Oregon losses.
With a bye coming up next week before Oregon travels to Cal on Oct. 24, Helfrich said the team's preparation will remain the same.
"We treat them (players) exactly the same after a win or a loss," he said. "We're very honest with them. We sit down and assess what's going on, we take responsibility for what we should as coaches and they do the same as players."