The Washington State Cougars fought hard to make up a 14 point deficit in the first half to tie the game by halfitime, but they faded mightily in the second half to fall to the No. 3 Oregon Ducks, 38-24.
Had the Cougars (5-5 overall, 4-3 Pac-12) won the game, they would have controlled their won destiny in the Pac-12 North. Instead, they’ve fallen two games behind Oregon (9-1, 6-1) and have essentially been eliminated from contention for the division title.
Still, they’re in a great spot to advance to their sixth consecutive (non-Covid) bowl game: Just one win over either Arizona at home on Friday or at the Washington Huskies in two weeks will do the trick.
The game got off to what looked like the best possible start when Jayden de Laura found Calvin Jackson Jr. for a 77-yard touchdown on the second play of the game, but Jackson stepped out on the 7-yard line. On the next play, de Laura scrambled for the end zone and stretched for the pylon, but the ball was dislodged just short of the goal line, and it resulted in a touchback for Oregon.
The Ducks asserted themselves, grabbing a couple of TDs to take a 14-0 lead, appearing to be in control of the game. But the Cougs fought hard, and they were able to tie the game up at 14 heading into the break.
It was downhill from there. The offense could get nothing going in the second half, and Oregon’s rushing attack ground the Cougars down into a fine paste to win the game going away.
Second half fade: The Cougs generally have been strong in the second half. That wasn’t the case in this one, as Oregon outgained WSU 284-138 after the break, with most of WSU’s yards coming in garbage time. As happened against BYU, the Cougars got leaned on a bit on defense down the stretch — they just couldn’t handle the physical pounding in the third and fourth quarter. As big of a problem was the ineptitude of the offense after the break; they had a fairly conservative game plan designed not to have big mistakes against the Ducks, but it didn’t help much.
QB run defense: Fans are perennially terrified of the mobile QB against WSU’s defense, and that nightmare came true on Saturday, as Anthony Brown ran for a career high 123 yards. We knew he was a running threat, but he hasn’t exactly been the primary rusher for Oregon this season. That all changed Saturday, and WSU struggled to cope.