It wasn’t a flawless performance, but the No. 11 Washington State Cougars played more than well enough in their first road game to get their sixth consecutive win to open the 2017 season, defeating the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium, 33-10.
The offense was mediocre for most of the night, struggling to gain yards consistently. So, as has been the case for most of the season, the defense led the way, holding the Ducks to just 277 yards at a 3.8 yards-per-play clip.
Alex Grinch’s unit did a masterful job dominating the Ducks, who were starting a true freshman at quarterback and missing their top wide receiver, Charles Nelson. They allowed the Ducks to convert just 2-of-17 third downs, and they stoned Royce Freeman them on a pair of short yardage fourth down runs. Freeman, who has terrorized WSU over the years, gained just 62 yards on 12 carries after being questionable for the game with a shoulder injury.
Like last week, the announcing tandem — this time, Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman — was eager to remind everyone just how depleted the opposing offense was. Perhaps the game would have been closer with Justin Herbert under center, but none of Oregon’s running backs, including the healthy ones, had any space to run: Together, they gained just 129 yards on 27 carries. The wide receivers and quarterback gained just three yards on their 18 carries, which included four sacks.
And given the fact that it looked pretty much just like last week (minus the 86-yard TD), it seems reasonable to say: This was much more about what the Cougs were doing in terms of dominating the line of scrimmage than it was about the injuries on Oregon’s side.
(Also, now seems like a good time to remind you that WSU was playing without Peyton Pelluer, Nnamdi Oguayo and Isaac Dotson. Well, I guess Dotson made it through one series. But you get the picture.)
WSU more or less held Oregon at arms length all night, leading by three at the half. Given the Ducks’ struggles moving the ball, it would really only take a couple of strong sequences to put the game away.
The first one came on the first drive of the second half. Facing 3rd-and-19, Luke Falk — who finished with a pedestrian 282 yards on 24-of-42 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions — found Isaiah Johnson-Mack on a back-shoulder fade to convert. The drive was capped off with Renard Bell’s first career touchdown on a route that should look awfully familiar to anyone who paid attention to Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin Jr. It stretched the margin to 20-10:
The second sequence came right at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Down by 13 points, Oregon was forced to begin to open up the offense, which to that point had been extremely conservative in an apparent effort to protect Braxton Burmeister. That was a mistake: Marcus Strong, running stride for stride with the receiver, intercepted an underthrown ball down the sideline.
One play later:
That made it 30-10, and the game was effectively over.
Early on, it looked like the Cougs might roll, as the game got off to pretty much the best possible start.
Oregon won the toss and elected to receive, and the Ducks moved the ball out to their 40 yard line. Facing 4th-and-1, they went for it, but Royce Freeman was stoned for a short loss and the Cougs were in prime position.
One play later, WSU was in the end zone, courtesy of Jamal Morrow’s awesomeness — with an assist from some really bad tackling:
It got less ideal from there for the remainder of the half. The Cougs did just about everything they could to keep the Ducks in the game, and it worked. Bad throws? Check. Terrible punts? Check — a 34-yarder by Erik Powell followed up by a 12-yarder by Kyle Sweet. Blown coverage? Check:
Penalties? Check — five for 59 yards. Long drive, stalling in the red zone? Check. Turnover? Check — Renard Bell coughed up a fumble after picking up a first down. This is just ...
About the only saving grace was the defense and Powell. The Cougs allowed just 172 yards at a clip of 4.4 per play, and only gave up a single third or fourth down conversion (1-of-11 combined). The only time the Ducks scored was when they started in WSU’s half. Powell, meanwhile, hit a pair of field goals, including a career best 52-yarder, giving WSU a 13-10 lead at the break.