Score this one for the defense.
Washington State held alleged rival Oregon State to 187 total yards Saturday - 2 fewer than the renegade Cougars piled up in penalties - to beat the Beavers 24-3 in rainy Parker Stadium.
It was WSU’s first road win against a Pacific-10 Conference team since 1994, and it allowed the Cougars (4-2, 2-1) to surpass last season’s win total with five games remaining.
Saturday’s strong defensive showing also let WSU downplay five turnovers, 17 penalties and the 13-for-28 performance of quarterback Ryan Leaf, who played with a shoulder injury he didn’t disclose until afterward.
“The defense played great,” said cornerback Shad Hinchen, whose third-quarter interception for a touchdown was the knock-out blow. “That’s what we’ve got to be able to do to be able to win - Leaf told me, ‘Shad, you guys got to help us today.”’
With good reason, apparently.
Leaf said his throwing arm had been injured during last week’s loss to Arizona. The revelation turned out to be an afterthought in Oregon, where Leaf had made headlines with pregame comments dismissing the Beavers as one of WSU’s primary rivals.
“They needed something to get pumped up about,” Leaf said. “But you still gotta go out on the football field and play.
“It doesn’t matter what’s said beforehand and what’s said afterward - it’s what goes on during those 60 minutes between the lines.”
That’s where the defense came in, holding the Beavers to a mere 2.6 yards per play.
OSU (0-5, 0-3) entered the game intent upon diversifying its option-oriented offense, but may want to reconsider after tying a school record with its 15th straight loss.
“I’m not sure what our problems on offense were and I won’t know for sure until I look at the film,” Beavers coach Jerry Pettibone said.
The Cougars hassled freshman quarterback David Moran into a 6-for-22 outing that made Leaf’s effort seem brilliant by comparison.
Moran was subbing for injured starter Tim Alexander, and his inexperience surely played a role in the game’s pivotal play. The Beavers were trailing 10-0 when Moran inexplicably threw directly at Hinchen in the left flat.
Moran’s pass seemed to startle Hinchen, who recovered in time to race 34 yards for his first WSU touchdown.
“A lot of people have been running a lot of short passes on us,” Hinchen said, referring specifically to the Oregon game, “so we just practiced against it (during the week) and executed in the game.”
Defensive tackle Leon Bender played a major role in Moran’s decision-making, repeatedly breaking into the OSU backfield. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior finished with six tackles, including two sacks among his four tackles for losses.
Bender’s supreme effort was pivotal because of an injury to Gary Holmes, the other starting tackle. With the 312-pound Holmes limited by a neck injury suffered in practice, Bender stepped up with his most dominating performance since the 1994 Apple Cup.
He and Hinchen weren’t alone.
Strong-side linebacker Johnny Nansen recovered one fumble and forced another - the latter coming when he blindsided Moran - and middle linebacker James Darling made 12 tackles.
Defensive end Dorian Boose, who has two touchdowns on fumble returns this season, returned the Nansen-induced fumble 14 yards to the OSU 15.
The WSU defense was about the only redeeming quality in a game that featured 35 drives, but only three that covered 27 yards or more. The teams combined for 28 penalties, eight fumbles and four interceptions.
“Very ugly,” Leaf said. “But the scoreboard’s not ugly, and that’s all that matters.”
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