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BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Ducks OK on defense, but offense fails to execute, Taggart says after 23-point defeat at home

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister runs a play against Washington State.EUGENE — The first game of a tough five-game stretch for the Oregon Ducks went the way of the opponent.

Washington State's defense held down the quarterback-challenged home team on Saturday, and the Cougars scored seven times on offense to win 33-10 before 56,653 mostly frustrated fans at Autzen Stadium.

With true freshman Braxton Burmeister playing instead of injured QBs Justin Herbert (collarbone) and Taylor Alie (concussion), the Ducks scored twice in the first quarter on very short drives — on a field goal after being given the ball at the WSU 43 and on a Burmeister-to-Jacob Breeland 30-yard TD pass after the defense forced another bad punt to the WSU 30.

That was it.

Fending off a game Oregon defense, the Cougars produced much more offensively — as QB Luke Falk went 24 of 42 for 282 yards and three scores and kicker Erik Powell booted four field goals, including ones from 52 and 47 yards.

The Ducks (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) will play at Stanford at 8 p.m. Saturday, and then at UCLA, at home against Utah and at Washington. An 0-5 record during the stretch seems possible, especially if the Ducks can't find out how to produce more offense, sans Herbert.

A week after pummeling Cal with the run game, the Ducks had just 132 net yards rushing and no touchdowns on 45 carries (2.9 per carry), with Royce Freeman going for 62 yards on 12 carries. Burmeister was 15 of 27 for 145 yards and one score, but he threw two interceptions, the Cougars sacked him four times and the Ducks were 2 of 17 on third-down conversions, 0 of 3 on fourth downs (all runs stuffed) and punted seven times.

The Ducks had just 277 total yards and three turnovers.

Their penalty woes continued, with 10 for 95 yards.

Coach Willie Taggart said the Ducks simply didn't execute on offense — basically the same thing he said after the loss at Arizona State. His players agreed.

"They didn't do anything special that we weren't expecting," running back Kani Benoit said. "We just have to execute."

Taggart, who oversees the offense along with co-coordinators Marcus Arroyo and Mario Cristobal, said WSU's mobile defensive line, which features pre-snap movement, held down the Ducks' run game.

"We didn't play our best ballgame up front. Our guys didn't handle (movement) well, and it cost us big time. Our offensive line is our bread and butter ... and we weren't executing," Taggart said.

The defense performed well, giving up the first WSU score when the Cougars stuffed Freeman on fourth-and-1 at the Oregon 41. On WSU's first play, Falk dumped off a short pass to Jamal Morrow over the middle, and the running back broke two tackles en route to a 41-yard TD.

The Ducks scored on consecutive possessions — Aidan Schneider's 20-yard field goal and Burmeister's first career touchdown.

But the Cougars, fighting off the Oregon defense, tied the game on Powell's 25-yard field goal and went ahead 13-10 on his 52-yard field goal.

The Cougars scored on Falk's 10-yard TD pass to Renard Bell on the first possession of the second half.

Powell added a 47-yard field goal in the third quarter, and then the Cougars put the game away with Falk's 25-yard TD pass to Isaiah Johnson-Mack at the start of the fourth quarter.

Powell, a Vancouver, Washington product, hit a 29-yard field goal to cap his night.

The Ducks didn't gain more than 40 yards on any of their possessions and advanced only as far as the WSU 24 after their scores (on the last possession of the game).

The Cougars, 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Pac-12 play, displayed solid defense to go with their "Air Raid" offense.

"They did their homework," Freeman said.

Burmeister, playing as a true freshman like Herbert last year, showed his athletic ability, but other than the Breeland TD reception, he didn't throw well downfield. The Ducks had several false-start penalties, including four early on when Burmeister simply wasn't talking loud enough for linemen to hear.

"Braxton did some good things, he did some not good things — what most freshmen do," Taggart said. "This game he can learn a lot from. He needs a lot more help around him."

Said Breeland: "Ut kind of sucks when that (TD) is the only big play we have. He didn't have a lot of time. He has a big arm."

Like all true freshmen, Burmeister was not available for media interviews; Taggart prohibits true freshmen from talking with media.

Charles Nelson (ankle) and Dillon Mitchell (concussion) sat out the game. They are the best receivers on the team. And, the O-line underperformed and perimeter blocking underperformed, Taggart said.

"We just didn't play well. They beat us," Taggart said, of the Cougars.

The defense, coached by Jim Leavitt, played well again, winning battles on the line of scrimmage, single-covering well and running to the ball. WSU punted seven times. The Ducks sacked Falk four times and held the Cougars to 87 net yards rushing on 25 carries. WSU lost two fumbles and went 2 of 13 on third down.

"They're really fast. We would do something and they'd reel it in," WSU coach Mike Leach said. "We were more consistent in the second half, and then, of course, a lot of the credit goes to Oregon. If you get something, they can mitigate it, because they are pretty fast. It's hard to get into a rhythm against them."

"We did the best job we can," Ducks defensive end Jalen Jelks said.

But, "we didn't tackle well and do assignments well, and there were a lot of mental errors," linebacker Troy Dye said.

SCORING SUMMARY

WSU 7 6 10 10 — 33

OREGON 10 0 0 0 — 10

FIRST QUARTER

WSU — Jamal Morrow 41 pass from Luke Falk (Erik Powell kick), 12:41

OREGON — Aidan Schneider 20 FG, 4:45

OREGON — Jacob Breeland 30 pass from Braxton Burmeister (Schneider kick), 3:37

SECOND QUARTER

WSU — Powell 25 FG, 11:54

WSU — Powell 52 FG, 6:59

THIRD QUARTER

WSU — Renard Bell 10 pass from Falk (Powell kick), 12:02

WSU — Powell 47 FG, 5:52

WSU — Isaiah Johnson-Mack 25 pass from Falk (Powell kick), 14:35

WSU — Powell 29 FG, 1:41

Att. — 56,653

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