Ducks' will wins out at WSU
After making it hard on themselves for most of the first half on Saturday, Nov. 14, at Pullman, the Oregon football team rode a dominating offensive line to make things difficult for Washington State in the second half.
The Ducks simply wore down the Cougars' defensive front, giving the Oregon defense the cushion needed to stay a step ahead of WSU freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura and the run-and-shoot offense in a 43-29 triumph.
The result has the Ducks (2-0) alone atop the Pac-12 North Division two weeks into this abbreviated season. In Saturday's performance, the Ducks showed off a diverse offense for the second week in a row and had the defense again force the opponent into multiple field goals.
Perhaps most significant was the mental toughness and composure from an Oregon team that gave WSU (1-1) a head start thanks to three first-half turnovers.
"(The turnovers) gotta stop," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. "It's good to know that we can score as many points as we did and put up the numbers that we did with only 66 offensive plays."
Once the takeaways disappeared, the Cougar defense had no answer for the Ducks' offense. Oregon punted only once and for the second week in a row scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions.
Oregon's ground game covered 270 yards and Tyler Shough threw for 312 and four touchdowns as the Ducks survived a sloppy start to beat the Cougars for the second year in a row — and for the few veterans avenged a memorable loss at Washington State in 2018.
"I think we're just scratching the surface," Cristobal said. "This (win) means a lot to these seniors. I can't emphasize that enough."
Oregon outgained Washington State 581-421, averaging 8.8 yards per play. Verdell ran for 118 yards and a score and Shough again used his legs to net 81 yards.
"We felt they couldn't stop us when we were doing our job and not turning the ball over, so I was really proud of our guys the second half," Shough said. "Our line blocked their butts off and I was just trying to spread it out to our wideouts because they're playmakers and they're super athletic, and that showed."
Shough hit six receivers on an impressive opening drive that covered 92 yards and culminated in a 13-yard catch and run by DJ Johnson, the only active tight end on the roster. But turnovers on three consecutive Oregon possessions gave Washington State the chance to jump ahead.
WSU's Ayden Hector collected an interception and two fumble recoveries, starting with recovering a strip of Travis Dye, picking off Shough on a wide-receiver screen and pouncing on a poor exchange between Shough and Verdell.
"It's not like we were sloppy. We didn't execute to our standard," Cristobal said about the string of giveaways.
Fortunately for the Ducks, the Cougars scored only 10 points after those three turnovers.
"You've got to give Oregon credit," Washington State coach Nick Rolovich said. "But also the realization we had our opportunities to put that game further out of reach in the first half … Especially with three turnovers in the first half, we've got to turn those into touchdowns."
The game turned in the closing seconds of the first half.
Washington State led 19-7 after a Blake Mazza field goal 24 seconds from halftime. But, after Mykael Wright returned a kickoff 40 yards, Shough beat a blitz and found Jaylon Redd behind the defense for 57 yards.
"Should have thrown it earlier and gave him a chance (to score)," Shough said. "I'm glad he got under it and caught it. It was a big play for us."
Huge, you could say, given that CJ Verdell plowed across the goal line three seconds before halftime to cut WSU's halftime lead to five points.
"The points before the half were huge," Cristobal said. "Tremendous play by Redd and by Tyler. To punch it in down there certainly gave us a lot of life."
Oregon took a lot of confidence to the locker room, then came out and dominated the third quarter to the tune of 191 yards to 30.
"Everybody felt that it was all about us getting refocused," Cristobal said about the mistakes that put Oregon in a 12-point hole. "There was a lot of energy. Guys were playing hard. We were missing on things that we're typically pretty good at, have done well at in practice. Once we got refocused, guys did a great job just taking over the football game."
Even with those gaudy third-quarter statistics, Oregon scored only one touchdown in the third period. The opening drive of the third quarter was 15 plays and more than six minutes. It included two key third-down pass plays for big yardage and a fourth-down conversion, but ended in a missed field goal.
Rather than deflate the Ducks, the Oregon defense got the Cougars off the field quickly twice in the third quarter. And the offense covered 68 yards in five plays for a go-ahead touchdown, beginning a string of four possessions that produced TDs.
The Ducks were efficient on third down (7 of 11) and fourth down (2 for 2) for the second week in a row, and one of those third-down plays was a 71-yard strike from Shough to running back Dye on a third-and-6 that put the Ducks up 14 with 8:25 remaining.
Dye ran past defensive end Ron Stone and Shough hit Dye in stride.
"I knew that I was going to be matchup up on a D-end," said Dye, who had a big second half for the second week in a row and finished with 55 yards on five carries and two catches for 87 yards and two TDs. "I told Tyler before the play, 'If I'm even, I'm leavin',' and I was even with the dude at the line of scrimmage and I left him. It was simple."
Even with a new quarterback, six new offensive linemen and one available tight end, Oregon has found happiness on third downs through two games.
"Good play calling and good execution on our part," Shough said. "We study their looks a bunch. We welcome third down, because they're going to show what they're really trying to bring and we just get our guys out in space. And I think we've really just taken advantage of those opportunities."
Washington State hung around with its run-and-shoot offens and pulled within seven with 4:40 remaining when Deon McIntosh scored from a yard out to cap a nine-play, 74-yard drive aided by a pass interference penalty.
But there was no stopping Oregon, which marched 75 yards on six plays. That drive started with a 22-yard Verdell run and included Dye runs of 24 yards (on a third-and-3) and 21 yards. By then, Oregon's blockers had worn WSU into submission.
Cristobal, who has built Oregon on a foundation of smart, physical offensive linemen, said there is plenty of room for growth from George Moore, Steven Jones, T.J. Bass, Alex Forsyth, Ryan Walk and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu — six interior linemen who played only their second game together.
"It's a special group. They work at it. They're getting better and better. They're playing with physicality, both in the run game and the pass game. Communicate extremely well," Cristobal said.
"They get in a groove and they're hard to stop. They provide great information when they come to the sideline as well. They do a really good job, so we can make our adjustments."
The Ducks were without several key players, including four of the five tight ends on the depth chart. Additionally, receiver Mycah Pittman, linebacker Justin Flowe, defensive back Daewood Davis and safety Steve Stephens were unavailable, presumably because of COVID-19 protocols.
But Cristobal was adamant that those players were not at fault.
"Those guys have done absolutely nothing wrong. Those guys are awesome human beings. They were just not available tonight," Cristobal said.
• Under the awesome human being banner, Noah Sewell should probably be included. The true freshman linebacker made his first start and was third on the team with four solo tackles, including his first sack.
• Nick Pickett led Oregon with nine tackles (six solo) before he was ejected in the fourth quarter for a targeting penalty. He will miss the first half of Oregon's home game next Saturday against UCLA.
• Kayvon Thibodeaux was credited with six tackles (five solo) and was instrumental in Oregon's defensive line asserting itself in the second half.
OREGON 43, WASHINGTON STATE 29
Oregon 7 7 7 22—43
Wash. St. 13 6 0 10—29
Ore — DJ Johnson 13 pass from Tyler Shough (Camden Lewis kick) 6:48.
WSU — Lucas Bacon 18 pass from Jayden de Laura (pass failed), 3:00
WSU — Renard Bell 4 pass from de Laura (Blake Mazza kick), 0:48
WSU — Mazza 39 FG, 9:38
WSU — Mazza 49 FG, 0:24
Ore — CJ Verdell 3 run (Lewis kick)
Ore — Travis Dye 15 pass from Shough (Lewis kick), 3:26
Ore — Johnny Johnson III 2 pass from Shough (Lewis kick), 14:19
WSU — Mazza 25 FG, 10:00
Ore — Dye 71 pass from Shough (Shough run),
WSU — Deon McIntosh 1 run (Mazza kick), 4:40
Ore — Cyrus Habibi-Likio 1 run (Lewis kick), 1:40
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