'They really are a great team,' WSU coach Leach says, but Cougars have little trouble with speedy Ducks

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Washington State closes in on Oregon running back Kani Benoit, with Jahad Woods making an ankle tackle.EUGENE — Oregon is no stranger to games against Washington State without its starting quarterback.

In 2015, the Ducks faced the Cougars without Vernon Adams Jr. WSU came out ahead that day, 45-38, in a thrilling, double-overtime affair. Using backup quarterbacks Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie, the Ducks took that game to the brink with a fabulous ground attack. Led by Royce Freeman's 246 yards and two touchdowns, Oregon gained 410 yards on 50 carries.

Oregon was unable to recreate that offensive attack against WSU on Saturday night, though. With star sophomore QB Justin Herbert out indefinitely with a broken collarbone, the Cougars were able to contain the UO run game, shut down the passing game and force three turnovers on the way to a 33-10 victory.

"We ran to the ball well, we got some turnovers that helped us, because all of their skill players are very talented guys," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "They've had one of the highest recruiting classes for I don't know how many years. They have a lot of speed out there, and they're very explosive. We gave up some explosive (plays), which I'm sure we'd probably like to do over again, but we did a pretty good job keeping the lid on."

Oregon did not announce whether true freshman Braxton Burmeister or Alie would be the starting quarterback until just before game time. Leach said it did not matter to the Cougars who the Ducks lined up behind center, though.

"They did all of that cloak and dagger, guess who is going to play, which we didn't care," Leach said. "They have an offensive identity that they've had for a long time. That guy was going to try to duplicate that. It's kind of like if all of a sudden we replaced a quarterback I'm sure everyone wouldn't prepare for some option guy."

In his first career start, Burmeister completed 15 of 27 passes for 145 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also was sacked four times. And many of Burmeister's completions were screen passes that were more glorified handoffs than anything.

"He was good. He was tough." Leach said of Burmeister.

Burmeister also ran 15 times and gained 35 positive yards before finishing with minus-4 yards because of sacks. Stopping him on the run was a focus for the Cougars defense.

"Braxton and I are from the same (area around) San Diego," said WSU weakside linebacker Jahad Woods. "I didn't play against him, but he was a great, great quarterback in high school, so we looked to stop him running."

The Ducks looked out of sorts on offense as the game began. Before Oregon got off a play, it had moved 10 yards the wrong direction with a delay of game and a false-start penalty.

The Ducks were able to put together two scoring drives in the first quarter, after their defense twice gave them a short field.

Oregon got on the board with a 20-yard field goal after a drive that started on the Cougars' 40-yard line.

Then, after getting the ball on the Washington State 30, Burmeister connected with Jacob Breeland for a touchdown pass that gave the Ducks a 10-7 lead.

The Cougars never gave Oregon another short field, though, and the Ducks did not get on the board again. Washington State's defense was especially dominant in the second half, not allowing Oregon to even sniff a comeback as the WSU offense began grinding down the UO defense.

"The biggest thing said (at halftime) was that we can't worry about anything else, offense, special team, we've just got to worry about ourselves and keep doing our thing," Cougars nickel back Hunter Dale said. "Everybody was buying into it, not worried about the game too much, just worried about stopping their offense."

With the Ducks' passing game subdued, the Cougars were able to focus on shutting down the run. Washington State held Oregon to 132 yards there. Freeman was the leading Oregon running back, but he had just 62 yards.

"We kept them off-balance," Leach said. "We played real hard up front. We have some quick guys. We did a good job changing our looks and keeping them off-balance so they never got in a rhythm. They did burn us sometimes, and they are that good. They really are a great team."

Free safety Robert Taylor said the key to WSU stopping the run was playing sound, fundamental football.

"We were just doing our jobs," Taylor said. "People had great eyes, getting in the gaps, people leveraging in a big way. We were just doing the simple things that we do. That's what helped us out in that run game."

While Washington State thoroughly dominated the Oregon offense, the Ducks defense prevented the Cougars from putting a crooked number on the scoreboard. Part of that, though, may have been that with the WSU defense playing so well Leach was able to make conservative decisions throughout the night, never needing a fourth- down conversion.

"We had some third-and-longs where I would've then been inclined to go for it on fourth down," Leach said. "We've been punting the ball pretty well, so that (mattered), too."

The Cougars are now on a three-game winning streak against the Ducks. It's the first time Washington State has won three consecutive games against Oregon since 1982-1984. Leach was happy about that, with one caveat.

"We thought the time before last up at our place (in 2014), we should've won," Leach said. "So might as well get this streak rolling the best we can as far as we're concerned. Understandably, there's two different sides to it, and I'm on ours."

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