SEATTLE – The score was as lopsided as it’s been for Washington State this season, but Mike Leach didn’t assess the damage of the Cougars’ 51-26 loss to No. 2 Oregon with a negative tone.
Instead, the coach offered a few words of encouragement, words that might give WSU partisans at least a little more hope as the Cougars head to Corvallis this weekend for a game against unbeaten and 14th-ranked Oregon State.
“I thought of the games we’ve played this year, I think this was our most complete game,” Leach said Saturday. “I thought we played for 60 minutes. I thought we competed better in this game from start to finish than any other game we’ve played this year.”
From start to halftime, there is no argument. The Cougars fell behind 20-3 before rallying for a more manageable 23-19 first-half deficit, and might have taken the lead if not for a disastrous, three-sack offensive series just before halftime.
Of course, the rest of the story is told by the score – Oregon’s three touchdowns in the third quarter offered further proof that WSU isn’t quite capable of putting together a full 60 minutes of proper execution yet.
Leach acknowledged that the end result wasn’t pretty. Players were too surprised, too excited, he said, to be trailing by only four points at halftime.
“We came in here and everybody was pretty riled up,” said quarterback Connor Halliday. “I think we’ve got to be able to stay within ourselves, and obviously that showed by the way we came out and started the second half.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised some good things happened to us,” Leach said.
The problem this time, Leach said, wasn’t complacency, as it was in last week’s 35-34 loss to Colorado.
Oregon simply had the Cougars overmatched.
“We got them off the field a lot, but the thing was the explosives where they got loose on us,” Leach said. “Everyone’s talking about how quick they are. They outran us a couple times.”
It will be a different kind of test this week, then. Oregon State’s hot start is easily the Pac-12’s biggest surprise thus far, as the Beavers outlasted Arizona in a 38-35 shootout Saturday night in Tucson to remain undefeated.
The Beavers have used a strong run defense to stymie opponents, but rank 113th – one spot behind WSU – in pass defense. And OSU has yet to play an opponent who prefers the pass over the run: the Beavers’ three wins this year were against power-minded Wisconsin, UCLA (led by running back Johnathan Franklin) and an Arizona team that runs an offense similar to Oregon’s.
Halliday completed 33 of 60 passes for 348 yards on Saturday, though he left the game after taking a hard hit in the fourth quarter. Jeff Tuel relieved him, his first game action since WSU’s win over Eastern Washington on Sept. 8, and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Marquess Wilson on his first play.
Halliday, who limped his way into the postgame interview room, said after the game that he took a couple of hits he shouldn’t have because he held on to the ball too long. But the sophomore quarterback also said “I’ll be good” when asked what was hurting him.
The Ducks sacked him seven times. OSU has seven sacks this season through three games.
“Yeah, it’s going to set up good (and) nice deep,” said Leach, referring to Halliday’s need to hit his check-down receivers. “But sometimes we’ve got to dump it off underneath. But we’re getting better at it.”
Along with everything else, they hope.