EUGENE – The Washington State football team piled up the positives on Saturday against second-ranked Oregon. Connor Halliday contributed a record-setting performance, the Cougars kept their composure when faced with adversity and the defense smacked Heisman-hopeful quarterback Marcus Mariota silly.
Why, you’d hardly know the Ducks had railroaded the Cougars 62-38.
Perhaps the Ducks were simply bored in the first half when they took a 34-24 lead, perhaps the Cougars just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank. Whatever the reason, Oregon looked entirely different after their midgame pep talk.
“One thing that is really impressive about Oregon is how decisively they play,” coach Mike Leach said. “They’re probably the most decisive team, as far as how they play, that I can think of in the country. So some plays they made they were more decisive than we were, and probably made us look worse than we are.”
Halliday struggled to get anything going in the second half, and finished the game with four interceptions. While the junior quarterback may not have been successful, he was certainly prolific. His 89 pass-attempts are a new FBS football record, and his 58 completions are tied for the lead. Both marks are records in the conference and his 557 passing yards are a new school record.
This was in spite of a litany of aches that Halliday, who suffered three sacks, listed off after the game.
“My shoulder’s pretty messed up, my ankle’s pretty messed up, my hip’s pretty messed up, so it’s kind of a perfect time for the bye week,” Halliday said “… I know that I’m our best option to win us games so I’m going to be out there.”
WSU went into the half down by 10 to the Ducks thanks to a pair of fumbles by Mariota, who was sacked three times through the game’s first two quarters. The second was scooped up by defensive tackle Xavier Cooper, who rumbled 29 yards to the end zone.
Not to be outdone, the Cougars also coughed up a pair of turnovers in the first half that potentially kept WSU from taking a lead into the locker room. Vince Mayle fumbled at the 1-yard line and the Ducks recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback. Halliday later lofted a pass into the end zone that was picked off by the Ducks.
“Bottom line: We find a way to not turn the ball over and we win this game,” Halliday said. “It’s sort of been the story of our season. That’s pretty frustrating.”
The Ducks’ famous speed was evident early as UO raced out to a 27-7 lead just a minute into the second quarter. Mariota finished the game’s first drive with a 57-yard touchdown run.
Even with star running back De’Anthony Thomas out, the Ducks’ depth had no problem with the WSU rushing defense. Sophomore Byron Marshall cut through the Cougar defense for 192 yards, and freshman Thomas Tyner added 99 of his own. The two combined to rush for five touchdowns on the night.
“We gave them too many opportunities and we weren’t as physical as we should have been,” safety Deone Bucannon said. “We should have been a lot more physical. It’s just one of those games.”
But a week after rolling over against Oregon State, the Cougars stood tall. Halliday threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to River Cracraft, and Cooper followed with the scoop and score to cut UO’s lead to 27-21. The Cougars had momentum and Oregon had their backs against the wall in a way that only happens a couple of times each season.
Then reality set in and Oregon’s superior athletes took over. Tyner, who could feed his family in either football or foot races, simply ran past the Cougar defense and 66 yards to the end zone. After a field goal by Andrew Furney to end the half, the Cougars wouldn’t score again until there was just over three minutes left in the game.
But when many would have pulled their starting quarterback from the game, Leach stuck by Halliday. Down 62-24, the WSU signal caller regained his composure enough to lead drives ending in his third and fourth touchdown passes of the night, the final two scores of the game.