An impressive first half on both sides of the ball gave way to a nailbiting second half as the Cougs did enough to come away with their sixth win of the season, securing a fourth straight bowl for the first time in the history of the program. The 34-20 win was their fourth consecutive win over Oregon, and marks the second straight year that the Cougars have started 6-1.
After a solid return by Travell Harris on the opening kickoff, Gardner Minshew guided the offense into the red zone before the Duck pressure forced him into missing Davontavean Martin on a shallow cross. The errant throw ended up in the hands of Deommodore Lenoir.
The first drive for Oregon was chaotic. Multiple snap miscues, several procedure penalties on both teams, and what we thought was a safety, ended up in a three-and-out for the Ducks.
The second Wazzu drive belonged to the running backs. Max Borghi and James Williams were the only two players to touch the ball on the six play, sixty-eight yard drive that culminated in a spectacular individual effort play by Boobie. He spun off several Oregon defenders and sprinted down the sideline before launching himself into the end zone for the score. The play came out of the Big Gulp/Swinging Gate formation, which drew the ire of Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.
Minshew led the Cougs to paydirt once again on the next Cougar drive, connecting with Renard Bell on a sixteen yard catch and run. Bell just managed to sneak the ball inside the pylon before his foot touched down out of bounds. For the second time this season, the PAT team flubbed the extra point, leaving the score at 13-0.
Fa’avae Fa’avae punctuated another three-and-out with a sack of Justin Herbert, leaving the Ducks with a grand total of one total yard of offense after their first three drives. The Cougs then went on a methodical march towards the end zone, bleeding a full eight minutes off the clock en route to another gorgeous corner fade from Minshew to Easop Winston. No issues in the kicking game this time, and the lead reached twenty points.
Oregon managed to earn a first down on their next series, but that was it, as they were back on the sideline after three more plays. The Cougar offense proceeded to cap the first half with a checkdown to Borghi that the running back, after juking Duck linebacker Troy Dye out of his unmentionables, took to the house from fifteen yards away.
Justin Herbert managed to settle down and the Ducks found some offense, but there was so little time left in the half that they were reduced to a last second, 4th down heave into the end zone. It should have been caught by Dillon Mitchell but, representative of Oregon’s entire first half, he dropped it, sending the teams into the half with Washington State leading 27-0.
As lopsided as the score was at that point, it was not truly indicative of just how dominant the first half performance was by the Cougs. The Cougar offense ran fifty plays; Oregon ran eighteen. WSU outgained Oregon 295-34. They earned nineteen first downs to Oregon’s three. The Cougars held the ball for just shy of twenty-three minutes. Minshew completed 31 of 36 pass attempts for 231 yards while Heisman trophy contender and future first-round NFL pick Justin Herbert was 4 of 11 for 36 yards. Were it not for the lone blemish of Minshew’s interception on the opening drive, this was a first half pantsing reminiscent of the 2003 game in Eugene.
The third quarter would belong to the Ducks. Oregon finally found their offensive groove on the first drive of the second half. Herbert avoided pressure and found receivers for chunk plays. Facing fourth and a yard in the red zone, Herbert rolled right and scampered into the end zone to get the Ducks on the board.
After a three and out by the offense, a good punt return by Ugochukwu Amadi set Oregon with great field position. After a fourth down conversion, the Ducks drove inside the ten yard line, aided by a Darrien Molton pass interference penalty. From there, #SpeedD stiffened up and stuffed three consecutive runs, including tackles by Karson Block and Will Rodgers III. A 32-yard field goal by Adam Stack made it 27-10.
Oregon got the ball back quickly after Minshew threw his second interception, this one again into the hands of Deommodore Lenoir. Justin Herbert then led a twelve play drive that ended with him finding Jaylon Redd all alone in the back corner of the end zone to get the Ducks within ten points at the end of the quarter.
After picking up a couple first downs, the Cougar drive sputtered out in Ducks territory. Going against type, Coach Leach elected to punt rather than attempt to pick up a fourth and three. Oscar Draguicevich put the ball in the end zone to give the Ducks the ball at the twenty. A long, time-consuming Duck drive finally came to an end inside the ten yard line as Skyler Thomas batted away a Herbert pass on third down. Peyton Pelluer nearly came away with the interception, but the ball fell harmlessly to the turf and Stack connected on his second field goal of the game. The Ducks were within a possession with under seven minutes to play.
The drive started somewhat auspiciously, as Minshew threw up a prayer that initially landed in the hands of a Duck defender. Travell Harris managed to steal it away as the two rolled to the ground. Harris again came up huge later on the drive, as Minshew found him to convert a fourth and six. Minshew then dropped a dime on Dezmon Patmon on a post route in the end zone from twenty-two yards away, giving the Cougars some breathing room at 34-20.
Oregon did not go away easily, driving all the way down to the Cougar 27 yard line. Jalen Thompson had a chance to end it when a Herbert’s pass hit him in the worst possible place—his hands. That was followed by a Willie Taylor sack that put the Ducks in a fourth and nineteen. Thompson redeemed himself by knocking away the fourth down pass, and it was the best play in football for the Cougs from that point on—the kneeldown.
The win keeps the Cougs in a three-team tie for first in the North division with one of those teams on the docket for next week—the Stanford Cardinal. The Washington State Cougars will travel to Stanford Stadium for a 4:00 PM PDT kickoff on the Pac-12 Networks.