The Cougars felt optimistic at halftime, but three quick Oregon touchdowns in the third quarter tested WSU's resolve.
If Mike Leach had an idle moment Saturday morning, he might have spent it watching two old underlings, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen and Baylor’s Art Briles, stage one of college football’s zanier games of the season.
Holgorsen ultimately won it over his ex-Leach staffmate, 10-9. Touchdowns, that is — a 70-63 game proving that not only in Xbox do offensive histrionics happen.
Leach’s imprint was all over that game, and if he hadn’t had work to do later in the evening, he might have had a warm feeling about the day.
Alas, Leach and Co. had to keep an appointment with the Oregon Ducks, who aren’t much into coaching genealogy, only getting to the end zone in as little time as possible.
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The Cougars, after taking the Ducks through a first half that ended with Oregon ahead 23-19, got washed away in a wave of Oregon touchdowns in the third quarter, and did what just about all opponents of the second-ranked Ducks do — lost, to the tune of 51-26.
Oregon is this irrepressible. It makes you feel good about the first half you played, and still finds time to suffocate you in an avalanche of offense in the second half.
Let’s start at the top: WSU athletic director Bill Moos has been getting some heat for scheduling a Pac-12 game in Seattle. Detractors said the crowd would prove their point, as the Duck fans would make it a half-house of lemon and green.
That didn’t happen. The crowd was 60,929, second-largest of WSU’s 10 games in this stadium, and it looked like maybe six- or seven-to-one, in favor of crimson.
And they had reason to get amped in the first half. The Cougars fell behind 20-3, but then with some cunning and some chutzpah, edged back into it.
Leach, showing what he thinks of those questioning his brassiness on fourth-down calls the past two weeks, went for it (and made it) on fourth-and-four early. A little later, he tried an onside kick that failed.
Interspersed, Teondray Caldwell ran a kickoff back 92 yards. Nose tackle Ioane Gauta dropped De’Anthony Thomas for a 3-yard loss. Xavier Cooper stoned Kenjon Barner 6 yards behind the line.
At half, then, WSU ran off heartened.
Oregon scoffs at such silliness. The Ducks jammed three touchdowns in 10 minutes, 33 seconds to start the third quarter and made sure the pollsters knew they weren’t in any jeopardy.
One of those scores was Avery Patterson’s 34-yard interception return of Connor Halliday, which, if you listen to Halliday, is not only characteristic of Oregon’s explosiveness — on both sides of the ball — but WSU’s fragile mental state.
“It’s tough, when their offense comes out on the field and scores, and I throw a pick for a touchdown — that’s 14 points,” said Halliday. “We’ve got to battle through it. We’ve got some guys that hang their heads, and we aren’t going to be successful if that keeps happening around here.”
Still, Leach was encouraged by what he saw. He noted the early freeze by the Cougars, when he said they “started out frantic. I’ve had teams in situations like that where they never really came out of it.
“I did feel we came out of it, midway through the first quarter, which is pretty quick for a young team. We battled away.”
But not always efficiently. The Cougars dropped a passel of balls, and Halliday’s statistics were similar to last week — 33 completions in 60 attempts.
And there were the inevitable Oregon explosive plays, the last one an 80-yard run by Barner.
Leach addressed the bigger picture when he noted his team’s excitement at being right there at halftime.
“If the excitement’s surprise that we made plays, we shouldn’t be surprised that some good things happen,” he said.
“I thought we played better than the score.”
But there it was, the score, so incriminating. That’s what Oregon does to you, especially if you don’t have West Virginia’s or Baylor’s offense with which to reply.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org