PULLMAN – It doesn’t get any easier from here.
Washington State’s most lamentable issues the past three weeks have involved attitude, complacency and an inability to blow opponents away when the opportunity is presented.
This week? The Cougars aren’t likely to find themselves in a similar position.
That’s because WSU travels to CenturyLink Field in Seattle to “host” the No. 2 Oregon Ducks, the team with the fastbreak offense – and, apparently, a pretty stout defense – fresh off a 49-0 pasting of the No. 22-ranked Arizona Wildcats.
Fourth-quarter execution issues are bad enough when you’re playing against teams you should beat. That was made as evident as ever in WSU’s come-from-ahead 35-34 loss to Colorado on Saturday.
But against the Ducks and Heisman trophy candidate De’Anthony Thomas? Things could turn sour a little earlier than the fourth quarter. Oregon (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) has already been installed as a 29-point favorite.
“We don’t have a lot of control over what the Oregon Ducks do,” coach Mike Leach said Saturday. “We have a lot of control over what we do and how we approach things mentally, how we think about things. Right now, we’re just a team that operates in spurts.”
The good spurts usually come in the first half. WSU has outscored its last three opponents 73-41 before halftime. And those opponents have responded by outscoring the Cougars 41-20 in the second half.
Inefficiency has plagued both sides of the ball. Quarterback Connor Halliday completed 19 of his 30 passes in Saturday’s first half for 224 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, notching 7.5 yards per attempt.
In the second half, he completed just 13 of 30 passes (43 percent) for 177 yards, a touchdown and an interception, notching just 5.9 yards per attempt. Some passes were dropped, including two by star receiver Marquess Wilson. A personal foul penalty stunted a promising drive in the fourth quarter.
And it should be noted that Oregon’s fast-paced offense and big-play defense have developed a reputation during the Chip Kelly era for wearing teams down in the second half.
In other words, the Ducks don’t need any help doing what the Cougars have been doing to themselves.
“I don’t think it’s so much complacency,” Halliday said. “I just think it’s stupid plays. Dropping balls, stupid penalties, not running in the right hole, me not making the right checks. It’s all mental.”
Defensively, the Cougars allowed 255 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter alone, yielding 531 for the game. WSU’s national ranking dropped to 103rd in total defense, one spot behind the Buffaloes.
Oregon ranks fifth in total offense at 577 yards per game.
“I feel like we got complacent later in the game because we were up on Colorado,” cornerback Daniel Simmons said. “I felt like there was a lot of miscues as far as who was supposed to be here, who’s supposed to be there. We got all frantic and guys didn’t focus in.”
They have one week to figure out how to change that.
“We’ve got plenty of games, plenty of opportunities left ahead of us,” Leach said. “And we need to go out there, maximize our repetitions, maximize our play, take a lot of pride in it, and it needs to mean more to us than it does the other guy.”