SEATTLE – This time there was no lead to squander, even if Washington State players admitted their attitude again changed in a way it shouldn’t have in the second half.
But there was also a football team that was simply better than the Washington State Cougars lined up across from them.
So the Cougars fell behind the No. 2 Oregon Ducks by a whole bunch, made things interesting just before halftime, then wilted in the third quarter of an easy Oregon win, this one 51-26 at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
Once again, WSU generated little offense in the second half, a recurring theme this season. And the Ducks (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) were their usual model of efficiency, scoring on drives both short and long, both time-consuming and lightning-quick, making big plays on both offense and defense.
And there was pressure – seven sacks’ worth – on WSU quarterback Connor Halliday, who completed 33 of 60 passes for 348 yards.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Halliday said of the constant hits. “But I’ve got to be able to go through my reads.”
Still, there was a time when the Cougars (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12) felt very much in this one – part of the reason coach Mike Leach called it WSU’s most complete effort of the season – even if the feeling didn’t last long. Their best chance to stay in the game came late in the second half when the Cougars – who had already settled for field goals twice inside Oregon’s 5-yard line – trailed just 23-19 and reached Oregon’s 17-yard line with a chance to take the lead.
Then Halliday was sacked. Then he was sacked again. Then he was sacked again. The Cougars lost 28 yards on those three plays, punted to Oregon, ended the half trailing by four points and never had the ball with less than a two-possession deficit after that.
“They ran the man coverage and came after us, which we expected,” Leach said. “And we had stuff underneath that we should have just hit. It’s really kind of an experience deal.”
The Ducks used 18 plays to cover 76 yards on their first drive of the second half, capping that journey with a 4-yard touchdown run by De’Anthony Thomas.
“I felt like the mindset changed,” said receiver Marquess Wilson, lamenting that the Cougars were too happy with just being close at halftime.
And if that wasn’t disheartening enough for the Cougars, Halliday threw an interception to Avery Patterson four plays later, Patterson stepping in front of a pass intended for Gabe Marks on the right sideline before returning it 34 yards for an easy touchdown.
“It was a good read,” Halliday said. “I just underthrew the route.”
WSU didn’t have a chance after that, and the Ducks tacked on another touchdown before the quarter ended, a 10-yard run by Kenjon Barner that made it 44-19.
“We’ve got some guys that hang their heads when we need to keep battling,” Halliday said.
Barner, who added an 80-yard score early in the fourth quarter, finished with 195 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries – an average of 9.8 yards per carry for a Ducks offense that mostly did what it pleased.
Halliday was hurried all game, and exited after taking a hard hit late in the fourth quarter. Jeff Tuel replaced him and immediately threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Wilson. “I’ll be good” said Halliday after he limped to the podium for his media session.
Wilson, who caught 12 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, moved into first place on the school’s career receiving yardage list.
“I thought we played better than the score,” Leach said. “As coaches what we’ve got to make our guys realize is they’re closer than they think they are. I felt like this game, we played a complete game. There were a lot of things that weren’t pretty. Some of it we’ve just got to polish and get better at it.”