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Oregon stages an improbable rally, scoring 29 fourth-quarter points to overcome its own mistakes for an emotional win.

PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, pictured against Eastern Washington on Sept. 10, endeared himself to Ducks' fans Saturday by throwing for a career-high 428 yards and helping Oregon to an improbable 44-41 win in the Pac-12 opener at Washington State.The Oregon Ducks staged an improbable fourth-quarter comeback Saturday, Sept. 24, turning a 12-point deficit with less than seven minutes left into an improbable 44-41 win over the Washington State Cougars, silencing a ready-to-party crowd at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

Trib's take: Where to start? Dan Lanning has made a habit of saying the Ducks' opponent every week is Oregon. It certainly seemed that way Saturday in the Palouse. The Ducks seemed destined to give this game away with missed opportunities and costly penalties. From four trips inside the WSU 10 in the first half producing only nine points, to a couple of personal foul penalties that contributed to Cougar second-half touchdowns, the Ducks made this one hard on themselves. Not to take anything away from a fast and athletic WSU team that looks ready to challenge for the upper tier of the conference, but Oregon might have put this game away earlier with better execution inside the Cougars' 10.

That said, every college football championship season features at least one close call. Oregon can correct a lot of its shortcomings while in a good mood this week as it prepared for a visit from Stanford.

Big picture: Dan Lanning's first Pac-12 victory is an instant classic that won't every be forgotten. This is the kind of win that can jumpstart a special run. There are no guarantees, of course. But the way Bo Nix played — overcoming an awful pick-six that for much of the afternoon loomed as the game-shifting moment — was impressive. Having a vet who can show his mates how to overcome adversity should only increase the Ducks confidence and help tighten the bonds on a roster that is half first-year Ducks.

The tone of this recap would have been much different if not for a terrific catch from running back Marquis "Bucky" Irving on a fourth-and-3 from midfield to extend the drive that pulled the Ducks within 34-29 with 3:48 remaining. From there, the defense that had struggled to contain QB Cam Ward all afternoon forced a three-and-out and moments later Troy Franklin was scooting 50 yards for the go-ahead catch and run. Then, Mase Funa sealed it with his anticipation of a quick screen pass turning into a win-sealing pick-six, the perfect picture for what feels like a stolen W on the Palouse for Oregon.

Lanning said after the game his defense needs to play much better. OK, but the Duck D actually played a decent game. When WSU scored, it usually required a trick play (opening with a flea-flicker on the first play of the game, for example) or the athletic creativity and competitive fight of impressive QB Cam Ward. That WSU netted only 41 rushing yards (1.7 per play) is a bit misleading since the Cougs use their quick passing attack more than a traditional running game. The Ducks were stout up front, and got the kind of play anticipated from linebackers Noah Sewell (nine tackles, two solo, one sack, 2.5 tackles for loss), Jeff Bassa (nine tackles, three solo, one for loss) and Justin Flowe (seven tackles, two solo, one for loss).

Oh, yes!: No doubt some Ducks' fans were having a con-Nix-tion fit when their quarterback floated a pass to the hands of Cougar linebacker Francisco Mauigoa for a 95-yard WSU defensive touchdown in the second quarter. But, the transfer from Auburn continues to play at a high level. In completing 33 of 44 for a career-high 428 yards and three touchdowns, Nix hit 10 different receivers. He also caught one pass himself (from Irving for 18 yards) and ran for 30 yards and a key 2-point conversion.

Oh, no!: The red-zone offense was, uh, disappointing. With full credit to a WSU defense that has been stout inside its own 20 all season, outscoring Washington State only 9-7 on four first-half trips inside the Cougars 10 in the first half was flat ugly. We cannot see the all-22 video on TV, so we have to assume there's good reason the Ducks didn't attempt one pass into the end zone on those red-zone trips.

… There were three costly personal-foul penalties in the second half. Brandon Dorlus' penalty for hitting Ward in the helmet on a play that would have at least forced a long field goal on what turned into a TD drive hurt most, but also was the most excusable as he was jumping to block a pass on the play. DJ Johnson had a couple of them, and will likely miss the first half next week for his targeting foul for contacting Ward with the top of his helmet in the fourth quarter. But the inexcusable penalty was Johnson's unsportsmanlike conduct for hitting a linemen well after a third-quarter play, a big assist in a TD drive that shifted momentum back to the Cougs.

Next game: Stanford at Oregon, 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 (FS1).

For more: Read our weekly On College Football column at pamplinmedia.com most Mondays, in print each Wednesday.


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