I have been coming across a lot of older games that seem completely outlandish nowadays. Now, it would be easy to cherry pick games from the 50s and say things like “Can you believe the University of Chicago has more Big 10 championships than Indiana and Penn State combined”. My goal is to do these in a recent enough time where you sit back, scratch your head, and wonder how you might have forgotten this event.
Please feel free to correct me on anything I seem to have overlooked.
The Lead Up
From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, Washington football was considered a powerhouse. Led by the most adored coach they’ve ever had in Don James, the Huskies appeared in three Rose Bowls (won two), an Orange Bowl (W) and six tertiary bowls (four wins). In 1985, they were coming off a season where they had been ranked #1 at one point, but dropped a relatively tight 16-7 game to #14 USC in their tenth game. Having dropped to #8, they clawed their way back to #2 but couldn’t surpass Lavell Edward’s 1984 BYU squad. The 1985 Huskies started the year off with two consecutive losses to then #16 Oklahoma State and subsequently #16 BYU. They recovered with a four game winning streak which included #13 UCLA. The Huskies were back in form rolling into a game at home against an oftentimes-doormat Oregon State.
Oregon State’s history from inception to 1985 had less than a handful of bright spots. The Beavers had only ever been to four bowls from 1916-1985 (granted…three of them were Rose Bowls [one win]). In the 22 seasons from their last bowl berth, they had only five winning seasons. Those winning seasons happened to come in the five consecutive years after that bowl berth. Another way to relay the point is noting Oregon State was barely above .500 all-time and had the 83rd best winning percentage of I-A teams at the time. They also had a conference winning percentage around .400 and the 10th best conference winning percentage all-time in the PAC. In 1984, neither of their starting quarterbacks were able to amass over 1000 yards and combined for 4 (yes, 4) passing touchdowns. None of their running backs were able to run for more than 400 yards and it took six players to accumulate 13 touchdowns (none over 3). In 1985, Oregon State was coming off of four straight losses to D1-AA Grambling State (23-6), Fresno State (33-24), USC (63-0), and WSU (34-0). Las Vegas had pronounced them 38-point underdogs to which the Seattle media had a field day. One reporter wrote “Oregon State plays football pretty much the way Barney Fife played a deputy sheriff on Mayberry”. Now, I’m only in my mid-20s, but I assume that this was some sort of sick burn.
So, what happened?
Washington started the game off by settling for a field goal to put them up, 3-0. The Beavers were sporting their backup quarterback at this point, but that didn’t seem to matter when he responded with a 43-yard touchdown on the following drive. The Huskies returned serve with an 80-yard drive to regain the lead, 10-7.
After effectively sacking the OSU punter on the Beavers’ 38-yard line, the Huskies threw a pick in the red zone that allowed Oregon State to march down the field to go up 14-10. After halftime, Washington put up a touchdown and a field goal in the third and fourth quarters respectively to take a 20-14 lead with 7:59 left in the game.
With only 1:29, Washington was forced to punt from just outside their endzone. This allowed Oregon State to block the punt, nearly causing a safety, where the Beavers were able to recover to score the touchdown, 21-20. UW was unable to mount a comeback drive which sealed the deal on the largest point spread upset in college history.
This would not cause much of a ripple effect for the Beavers. They went on to lose their remaining games, finishing 3-8, and would continue their string of losing seasons until 1999. For the Huskies, however, they would alternate wins and losses that season ending 7-5. They would flirt with good-but-not-great for the next few seasons, toeing the line between Top-10 and Top-20, until 1990 (where they would string together three Rose Bowl appearances [two wins] and a somewhat contested National Championship). This point-spread upset record would stand for 22 years until the 2007 USC-Stanford game.