Washington State football fans will long rue the Cougar defense inexplicably allowing Oregon receiver Jaylon Redd to get well behind the secondary at the end of the first half, leading to a touchdown that should not have happened.
That was the turning point in Washington State’s 43-29 loss to Oregon on Saturday night at Martin Stadium. Here are three instant impressions from the game.
Cougars were the better team — for a half
The Ducks were 10-point favorites, but the Cougars were certainly not overmatched, and dominated the first half until allowing Oregon the late touchdown to close to 19-14 at halftime.
WSU true freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura — who doesn’t play like a true freshman — played as well as Oregon sophomore quarterback Tyler Shough. The Cougars matched up well up front on both sides of the ball, and their defense forced three first-half turnovers — with true freshman and former Eastside Catholic safety Ayden Hector recovering two fumbles and intercepting a pass.
Washington State didn’t take advantage of its opportunities in the first half, but after taking a 19-7 lead on a field goal with 20 seconds left in the half, the Cougars should have gone to intermission feeling good. The late touchdown by Oregon changed the momentum.
The Ducks got another momentum boost late in the third quarter when it seemed that the Cougars, trailing 22-19, would convert a third-down attempt on a targeting penalty against Oregon. But the replay official ruled it wasn’t targeting (a judgment that was disagreed with by Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira).
This was a winnable game for the Cougars. That will make the loss tougher to take, but the fact they played so well against perhaps the best team in the conference is a good sign for the long term.
The WSU offensive line is good
Many thought the biggest strength of the Cougars this season would be their veteran offensive line, and that certainly seems to be the case through two games.
The WSU offensive line performed well against Oregon’s defensive front, giving Deon McIntosh nice holes to run through (particularly in the first half) and doing a good job of protecting de Laura.
The offensive line has done so well — and McIntosh has been so productive — that the absence of injured star running back Max Borghi hasn’t hurt as much as it could have.
McIntosh followed his 147-yard rushing game in the 38-28 win over Oregon State with 16 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown.
If the WSU line stays healthy and continues at this high level, the Cougars have a chance to have a good season.
Defense falters in the second half
The Cougars had quite the overhaul on defense this season, from personnel to coaching staff to scheme, so it was no wonder the unit was a big question mark entering the season.
So when it seemed Oregon would be held to seven first-half points, it was pretty impressive. But the Cougar secondary allowed the big pass play in the final seconds of the first half, and a couple more in the second half, including a 71-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter that gave Oregon a two-touchdown lead.
Last year, C.J, Verdell rushed 23 times for 257 yards (11.2 yards per carry and three touchdowns in Oregon’s 37-35 win). He had another big game Saturday, rushing for 118 yards on 18 carries and coming up big on the Ducks’ clinching drive in the final few minutes.
As good as the WSU defense was for most of the first half, it ended up giving up 580 yards.