On the one hand, WSU went into Autzen Stadium against a top 10 Oregon team -- one that received an emotional lift from the returns of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James -- and stood toe-to-toe with the Ducks for most of the afternoon en route to a 43-28 loss. The Cougars actually outgained the Ducks, 462-454; I'm betting you could have gotten some amazing odds on that as a prop bet in Las Vegas before the game.
On the other hand, there were the two special teams touchdowns given up -- the first when a blown blocking assignment led to a blocked punt, the other when a missed tackle allowed De'Anthony Thomas to take a kickoff to the house -- and the two red zone interceptions thrown by Marshall Lobbestael.
This game had a feeling like so many others over the last year or so: "If only the Cougs could eliminate the mistakes ..." But alas, they couldn't, as teams with as much youth as they have, and learning how to win as they are, often can't.
But on the whole, I have to say that I'm pleased with this game.Yeah, the mistakes were super frustrating -- I mean, when you lose by 15 points and your opponent scored that exact same amount on those two special teams meltdowns, you can't help but just shake your head -- but when you approach this game from the perspective that WSU was expected to be destroyed, it's not hard to find positives.
Let's start with the defense, which was so roundly (and correctly) criticized after last week's debacle. The Cougars held Oregon's offense to just 28 points, with the front seven playing perhaps its best game of the year, given the competition. The overall statistics won't be that kind -- giving up 8.1 yards per play is still really bad -- but holding the Ducks to four touchdowns, making a couple of fourth down stands in the process, is pretty significant progress. Especially when you consider that the defense was a little shorthanded, missing Toni Pole and Mike Ledgerwood, both of whom regularly see time in a reserve role.
The offense, meanwhile, was continually able to move the ball against an Oregon defense that is incredibly underrated in so much as Kelly's offense gets a disproportionate amount of attention. For as explosive as Oregon was, WSU was exactly the opposite -- gaining only 5.3 yards per play -- but with four games to go, I've become convinced that this kind of ball-control offense is the Cougars' best chance at winning a couple of games down the stretch.
Lobbestael continues to show that he can manage a game plan with lots of short and intermediate passes, completing 28-of-48 for 337 yards. He finished with a respectable 7.0 yards per attempt, which was his best in a start since Colorado. There also was an incredibly underrated aspect of his game today. One thing Lobbestael does exceptionally well -- something that became apparent in watching Jeff Tuel do it poorly the last two weeks -- is get WSU in the correct protections. That, combined with some pretty good play on the line, held Oregon to just three sacks today.
While it's impossible to completely overlook the two red zone interceptions, both of which were terrible decisions, Lobbestael played an excellent game otherwise.
The rushing game was even competent: Running backs gained 4.05 yards per carry on 35 attempts. Not bad at all. And Marquess Wilson was himself after an early drop, catching 11 balls for 126 yards.
There were issues, to be sure. But Oregon is dang good, and the Cougars were inspired. Forget about whether they should have been this inspired last week; the question is whether they will be this inspired over the final four. If they are, there just might be a couple of wins in the offing.