EUGENE, Ore. – At any point of Saturday’s game, did it feel like Washington State’s defensive players were sucking the life out of Oregon’s skill guys – almost the same way a serpent does as it strangles its prey?
Good, because that’s just what the Cougars had in mind.
On Friday night, some 24 hours before WSU visited Autzen Stadium for its first road game of the 2017 season, players and coaches held a meeting and didn’t talk much about Cougars or Ducks. They did discuss snakes, though.
“One of our coaches talked about snakes,” recalled Rush linebacker Frankie Luvu. “When it wraps you, it hears your heartbeat. So when it stops hearing your heartbeat, that’s when he attacks.”
You couldn’t blame Oregon’s players for skipping a heartbeat or two whenever the 6-3, 235-pound Luvu crept up to the line of scrimmage Saturday night. With black war paint smeared across his face, the senior from American Samoa looks imposing as is, but Luvu gave Oregon nine more reasons to shiver during the Cougars’ 33-10 rout of the Ducks.
That’s how many times he sunk his teeth into a UO player – the nine tackles ranking only second to Hunter Dale. Luvu also escaped for two tackles-for-loss and boomeranged through the line of scrimmage during one play in the third quarter to lay a vicious sack on young Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister. It was marked as a loss of 11 yards.
Luvu got up, bent his right arm 90 degrees, and flicked his wrist forward.
“When I got that sack, I just put that snake up,” Luvu said.
And the Ducks sure looked snake-bitten at various points of Saturday’s game in Eugene. The Cougars limited the country’s top scoring offense – which came in scoring just a shade under 50 points per game – to a single touchdown and zero points through the final three quarters.
Oregon moved the chains just 13 times and didn’t exceed 400 yards of total offense for the first time this season. The Ducks actually didn’t hit the 300-yard barrier, either, settling for just 277.
The Oregon running backs were scoring five touchdowns per game this season, but scored zero Saturday evening in Eugene. There weren’t many broken tackles or missed assignments from the Cougars, who bit with venom every time the Ducks tried to challenge one of them head-on.
Royce Freeman, the top stallion in Oregon’s stable, is known for plowing the defenders who stand in his way or in other cases, just galloping past them. But the Cougars were the first team this season to truly slow the senior running back – he rushed for 51 yards against Cal but only had six carries before leaving with injury – and they did it by wrapping Freeman, then squeezing him tightly until they could plant No. 21 into the turf.
Freeman finished with 62 yards on 12 carries and second-stringer Kani Benoit wasn’t able to squirm and slither through the defense like he usually does, netting just 32 yards on 10 carries.
“They have a lot of speed out there and they’re very explosive,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I was proud of the way our defense – we gave up some explosives, which I’m sure we’d like to do over again, but we did a pretty good job of keeping the lid on them.”
Oregon had rushed for 260 yards per game entering Saturday – the Ducks hit 348 in the season opener and 328 against Cal despite Freeman’s ailment – but WSU limited the hosts to 132.
Said Luvu: “We told each other to keep doing our job, play downhill, play our defense and that’s Speed D.”
And maybe the snake chats become a part of the weekly routine now.