Cougars enjoy a close first half before Oregon runs away
For a little more than a half, Washington State put a scare into No. 2 Oregon.
In the stadium where this week the Seahawks toppled Green Bay on a Hail Mary pass and the Huskies ran over No. 8 Stanford, the Cougars gave their crimson-clad fans at CenturyLink Field hopes of yet another upset victory for the home team.
Washington State trailed by just four points at the start of the second half before Oregon scored three consecutive touchdowns in the third quarter and ran away with a 51-26 victory in front of a crowd of 60,929 and an ESPN2 audience.
The Cougars were 30 ½-point underdogs, but they stood firm early on against a Ducks offense that entered the game ranked fifth in the nation by averaging 571.0 yards.
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Oregon, however, took control a little later than many had expected.
The Ducks marched 76 yards in 18 plays in six minutes, 14 seconds on the opening drive in the second half. De’Anthony Thomas capped the series with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Any chance Washington State had of mounting a comeback were dashed on the ensuing possession when quarterback Connor Halliday threw behind Gabe Marks and junior cornerback Avery Patterson intercepted the pass before running 34 yards untouched into the end zone.
Halliday threw 60 times for the second consecutive week. Saturday, he completed 33 for 348 yards.
After the Cougars went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Oregon put together a seven-play, 41-yard scoring drive. This time, Kenjon Barner scored on a 10-yard run to give the Ducks a 44-19 lead.
Barner finished with 195 yards on 20 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown scamper with 10:52 left in the fourth quarter.
“There is never a time with our offense that we feel like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s panic time,’ ” Barner said. “We know exactly what we are capable of doing. When we execute, it’s just hard to beat us.”
Oregon improved to 5-0, 2-0 Pac-12 before the tussle this week against Washington at Autzen Stadium.
Washington State lost for the sixth consecutive time to Oregon and fell to 2-3, 0-2 Pac-12.
The Ducks looked as if they would literally run away from the Cougars early on.
After holding WSU to three-and-out on the opening drive, Oregon marched 50 yards in 69 seconds for the game’s first score. Barner scored the first touchdown on a 22-yard scamper with 13:08 remaining in the first quarter.
Washington State coach Mike Leach took criticism following the 35-34 defeat last week against Colorado for calling a fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter that went incomplete instead of taking a short field goal.
On WSU’s second drive against Oregon, he gambled again on fourth-and-four. The Cougars drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback Terrence Mitchell and got the ball at the UO 2.
However, the Cougars failed to gain a yard and facing another fourth-down decision, Leach elected for an 18-yard field goal to cap a 15-play, 79-yard drive.
Oregon tacked on 14 consecutive points on a touchdown run from quarterback Marcus Mariota and Mariota’s 30-yard pass to Barner.
The Ducks needed just 4:17 to score three first-quarter touchdowns.
Late in the first quarter, Teondray Caldwell returned a kickoff 92 yards to the Oregon 6 to set up Carl Winston’s 2-yard touchdown plunge.
However, the Ducks blocked the point-after try from kicker Andrew Furney.
On the next drive, Deone Bucannon intercepted a horrible pass from Mariota and returned it to the Oregon 20 on the final play of the first quarter.
The Cougars drove to the 5, but could muster only 2 yards in three plays. On fourth down at the 3, Leach again settled for field goal and Furney booted a 20-yarder.
“We started out frantic,” Leach said. “I felt like we came out of that in the first quarter, but some of those field goals should have been touchdowns.”
Still, the second quarter belonged to the Cougars. They held Oregon to just 71 yards and three points in the period.
While the Ducks offense sputtered, WSU put together a 67-yard scoring drive in six plays.
Halliday delivered a 26-yard touchdown pass to freshman Brett Bartolone that cut the deficit to 23-19 with 6:10 remaining before intermission.
The Cougars’ hopes of an upset, however, evaporated in the third quarter.
“Of the games we played this year, this was our most complete game. I thought we played for 60 minutes,” Leach said. “There were a lot of positives even though the results aren’t what I would have liked.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.