EUGENE, Ore. — If you bought the idea that Washington State would have to roll the dice to have a snowball’s chance against Oregon on Saturday night, you probably had the right guy wearing a headset on the sideline.
Mike Leach, the WSU coach, has shown a gambler’s chutzpah in some fourth-down decisions since he took over in 2012, including a pair of them last week against Oregon State.
He remained aggressive in Saturday’s 62-38 loss, converting on 2 of 3 fourth-down tries. The Cougars failed on fourth-and-six from the Oregon 45 in the first quarter, but scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-five play from the Oregon 12 in the second quarter. Late in the game, WSU converted a fourth-and-five from the UO 1.
Against OSU a week ago, the Cougars had a fourth-and-eight at the Beavers 40 in the second quarter, and decided to go for it. Connor Halliday gunned a 21-yard strike to Dom Williams on what would become a touchdown drive.
- With death on table, McEnroe jury's friendships crumbled
- To retire at 55 takes big savings
- Microsoft employees -- past and present -- look back over the years
- Salary cap expert Joel Corry with another look at Russell Wilson's contract
- No time to eat in Silicon Valley, so techies chug their protein
Most Read Stories
Later, with the game tied in the third quarter, Leach went against the book in even greater fashion. WSU had a fourth-and-two at the OSU 4, tied at 17. But rather than choose an almost certain field goal for the lead, Leach again went for it, and Halliday threw a fade pass for a touchdown to Vince Mayle.
Both pass and catch had to be near-perfect.
Leach explains it as a matter of playing the odds.
“A lot of it’s how the game’s going, if we’ve got kind of a read on what they’re doing defensively, what we expect to get,” Leach said. “And also what you give up if you don’t get it.”
Leach had a couple of fourth-down backfires early last year in situations in which he seemed to be trying to inspire confidence in his team. One came against Colorado, in which a field goal would have given WSU a 34-14 lead. The Cougars eventually kicked another field goal but blew a big advantage and lost 35-34, and the season spiraled downward.
A couple of days later, Leach issued what amounted to a mission statement on his view of the risk-taking.
“It’s funny,” he said. “People view field goals as automatic and fourth downs as impossible.”
Honor for Bucannon
WSU senior safety Deone Bucannon, the leading tackler in the Pac-12, was named a midseason first-team All-American this week by SportsIllustrated.com.
Bucannon was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick on Phil Steele’s midseason team. Center Elliot Bosch was a second-team choice, linebacker Cyrus Coen made third team, as did receiver Gabe Marks and punt-returner Leon Brooks.
• Nick Aliotti, Oregon defensive coordinator, talking to reporters earlier in the week: “If I was them (the Cougars), I’d throw some deep balls and hope they get a P.I. (pass interference), because the officials always call a P.I, because they’re horrible. They don’t know how to call a game. They don’t understand it.”
• The second-ranked Ducks have a seven-game win streak against WSU, longest in the series. The Cougars beat them, 34-23, in Pullman in 2006.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org