The Ducks were AWOL in the first half and then couldn’t rally enough in the second as Washington State came away with a 34-20 win in the Palouse.
It was the Cougars fourth straight win over the Ducks, who fell to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in conference play. Washington State is suddenly in the Pac-12 North driver’s seat as the Cougars improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in conference action.
Oregon mustered a grand total of 39 total yards of offense in the first half and went into the halftime break down 27-0. It was a far cry from the methodical offense that they displayed just a week ago against Washington in that overtime win.
Despite the dismal first half performance, the Ducks managed to look like a completely different team in the second half and actually made it a one possession game in the fourth quarter.
“We certainly played a different brand of football in the second half, but it wasn’t enough,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “We appreciate the grit our guys came out and fought with throughout the entire game. But better execution in the first half would have made a better half of football.”
It took the Ducks just seven plays to go 75 yards and a touchdown on their first possession of the third quarter. That drive was so different from the entire first half that even though it was still 27-7, Oregon had to think it was still in the game.
And they were.
The Duck defense, which on the field for most of the first half, managed to hold the Cougar offense to a three-and-out and the gave Justin Herbert the ball right back with just 59 seconds going off the clock.
Herbert took advantage and drove the Ducks 39 yards to set up Adam Stack’s 32-yard field goal to make it 27-10.
Again, the defense was able to stop Washington State with Deommodore Lenoir’s second interception of the night. Oregon took five minutes, but when Herbert found Jaylon Redd all by himself in the back right corner of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown, it was 27-17 Cougars with a quarter to play.
It was anyone’s game at that point.
Both teams traded possessions in the fourth quarter and the clock was starting to become the Ducks’ enemy. Stack booted in a 23-yard field goal with 6:38 remaining to make it 27-20.
Oregon needed to get one more defensive stop to give Herbert one more chance to tie the game.
They didn’t get it.
In the biggest drive of the Cougars’ season, Gardner Minshew hit Dezmon Patmon for a 22-yard touchdown to complete an eight-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up nearly three precious minutes off the clock to make it 34-20 with just 3:30 left to play.
The biggest play of the drive and the game came when Washington State was faced with a fourth-and-six on the Duck 34-yard line, coach Mike Leach trusted his offense to extend the drive instead of trying a 51-yard field goal.
His gamble paid off when Minshew completed an 11-yard pass to Travell Harris for the down. The Cougars scored two plays later.
That last drive was the exception, not the rule, in the second half. In the first half, Minshew was 32-of-36 for 231 yards. Washington State also held the ball for almost 23 of the 30 minutes before halftime. Oregon might have considered itself lucky to only be down 27-0. It could have been a lot worse.
After a miserable half, Herbert wound up going 25-of-44 for 270 yards and a touchdown. Eight different Ducks caught passes with Dillon Mitchell leading the way with seven receptions for 47 yards. Jacob Breeland managed four catches for 63 yards. Brenden Schooler also caught four passes for 59 yards.
With Oregon trailing for the entire game, the Ducks’ ground game never got going. CJ Verdell had just 12 carries for 55 yards.
As with last week’s win, the Ducks will try to put this loss behind them and prepare for a trip to the desert. Arizona awaits Oregon where Tucson can be a problematic place to play. The Wildcats, however, are rebuilding under first-year coach Kevin Sumlin.
~ Don Smalley