Cougars throw and throw and throw, and drop another game
EUGENE College football history was made Saturday night at Autzen Stadium by the team that lost by, essentially, 38 points.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday tied the NCAA big-school record with 58 completions on an NCAA-record 89 attempts, while throwing for a Cougar-record 557 yards and four touchdowns.
Mind you, the records went down on the final two drives, after Oregon had opened up its 38-point lead and then sent third- and fourth-string defensive players into the game.
The Cougs marched for two touchdowns in the final four minutes, led by Halliday and first-team offensive players, to close within 62-38.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti chose his words carefully after the game. The Cougars accumulated some yards and points although 17 of their first 24 came after UO turnovers but the records had Aliotti almost chuckling.
"I better watch myself (speaking), but I'm stunned by the fact that (coach Mike Leach) would keep his quarterback and crew in there and still be throwing the ball with 20 seconds left," Aliotti said. "He's still throwing when most guys would try to end the game and go home. But they want stats. They got stats. We got the most important stat and that's the 'W.' We're happy with that."
The Ducks stumbled, somewhat, as QB Marcus Mariota committed his first two turnovers of the season, on first-half fumbles, and Byron Marshall also coughed up the ball.
But Oregon recovered nicely, piling up 716 yards offense, including 383 rushing.
Marshall rushed for 192 yards and three scores on 21 carries, Thomas Tyner added 99 yards and two scores (including a 66-yarder) on seven carries, and Mariota went 23 of 32 for 327 yards and two TDs and added 67 yards rushing and another score on eight carries.
The win set up Oregon (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) for its two toughest games of the regular season. UCLA, which lost to Stanford 24-10 Saturday, visits Autzen Stadium, 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26. Then the Ducks travel to play Stanford on Nov. 7.
The Oregon defense faced 101 plays including only 12 rushes. Halliday's 89 attempts broke the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision record of 83 by Purdue's Drew Brees in 1998, and Halliday's 58 completions tied Andy Schmidt's total in a 2008 game for Eastern Michigan.
But Halliday averaged only 6.3 yards per pass attempt a low number as the UO defenders faced an onslaught of passes but not too many went over their heads.
The Ducks sacked Halliday four times and picked him off four times, including Terrance Mitchell's pick that he returned 51 yards for a touchdown.
The two key picks came in the third quarter. The Cougars had made it a close game by halftime, driving in the final minute of the second quarter to draw within 34-24 on Andrew Furney's 49-yard field goal.
The Ducks drove to go ahead 41-24 on Mariota's 10-yard TD pass to Keanon Lowe.
Then Halliday basically chucked up the ball under pressure, and Avery Patterson picked him off.
The Ducks scored four plays later on Marshall's 30-yard run to go ahead 48-24.
On WSU's next possession, Derrick Malone intercepted Halliday.
The Cougs, who also suffered an end-zone interception by Halliday and a lost a fumble in the end zone by receiver Vince Mayle, both in the first half, had blown their chance to stay close.
Later, Mitchell's pick-six made it 62-24.
"I was really pleased how we came out in the second half," Aliotti said.
"We saw on film that (Halliday) takes chances, and he just kind of throws the ball up, if he reads it pre-play," Patterson said. "That's something we keyed on. We were able to capitalize. He saw more man coverage, and we played a lot of zone; he was seeing something that he wanted at the beginning of the play, then we rotated into something different and were able to make plays."
Patterson and other defensive backs liked the challenge of defending the plethora of passes.
"Eighty-nine (attempts) was definitely surprising," Mitchell said. "But they didn't really throw it downfield a lot. I was expecting that a little more. People were telling me all week that they're going to throw the ball a lot, and you should get (a pick)."
The Ducks beat the Cougars for the seventh consecutive time, although most of the games have been competitive at times and Saturday's wasn't any different.
The Cougars slung the ball around, and their defensive line wreaked some havoc in the first half, pressuring Mariota into his first two turnovers of the season. The QB's second fumble was scooped up by defensive lineman Xavier Cooper, who returned it 29 yards for a touchdown, drawing the Cougars within 27-21 with 5:35 left in the first half.
Predictably, Mariota was being hard on himself, although his tally of 28 total touchdowns and two turnovers still looks pretty impressive. Coach Mark Helfrich said Mariota's two lost fumbles came on miscommunications in the passing game, for which he took the blame.
"It's always important to protect the ball," Mariota said. "Lucky for us it didn't have a detrimental effect on the game. I really have to focus on (not turning it over). It could hurt us later in the season."
The game never appeared in doubt, and the Ducks said they didn't worry with the score 27-21.
"There wasn't any type of panic or worry," Mariota said. "We understand if we take care of what we have to do, especially on offense, we'll execute and be successful. We knew our defense would come out and play for us. They were able to make a couple stops for us (in the third quarter), and we were able to turn it around and get points."
De'Anthony Thomas suited up again but didn't play, missing basically his fourth consecutive game since hurting his ankle on the opening kickoff return against California on Sept. 28. He hasn't played an offensive snap since the Tennessee game, Sept. 14.
But the sophomore Marshall and true freshman Tyner continued to improve; Tyner would have had 100-plus yards, had he not been nailed for a loss of minus-2 yards on a third-quarter carry.
"My mentality hasn't changed that much," said Marshall, who rushed for 100-plus yards for the fourth consecutive game, with Thomas out. "I have always had the mind-set that once I get on the field, I have to dominate the way I know how to. So now that I am on the field more I just get more of an opportunity to dominate."
Halliday said the Cougars (4-4, 2-3) had planned to chuck the ball around.
"I knew going in, on about Monday of last week, that we were going to throw it a lot," he said. "Nobody ever thinks 89 is going to be the number."
Leach said it was pretty cool to have Halliday set records. He's trying to build confidence and a winning mentality, so he was happy with how the Cougars played hard till the end of the game (even against Oregon's defensive scout team players).
"I felt like we played for 60 minutes," he said. "We didn't win today, but we played a really good team, and I thought we improved."