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.
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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