A Washington State game with Oregon coming down to the wire. Ever seen this before? Only if you are a Cougars follower with a working television.
It happened again Saturday on a sunny Pullman day when it looked for almost 49 minutes the Cougars would snap their three-game losing streak to the Ducks.
It wasn’t to be, however, as Bo Nix redeemed himself for an earlier pick-six with a 50-yard winning touchdown throw to Troy Franklin with 81 seconds left, giving the Ducks their first lead in what ended as a 44-41 Oregon victory.
Through it all, Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman did their thing from a sold-out Martin Stadium in the national Fox broadcast.
Though they both made their share of mistakes, the duo did a passable job of letting the game unfold without too much interruption and hit the right notes when the big moments happened.
After Nix’s throw and his 2-point conversion run, Oregon sealed the game with Mase Funa’s 27-yard interception return just moments later.
“You talk about a turn of events,” Tillman said of the Ducks’ 15 points in 20 seconds – and 22 in 2 minutes, 47 seconds – that lifted Oregon from seeming defeat. “I don’t think I’ve been a part of such a quick” change.
What they saw
• What would a Washington State game be without an odd, inexplicable officiating error? Not a Pac-12 contest, that’s for sure.
This time it was the inability to count. Losing a down. Not listening when a complaint was made. And, seemingly, changing the tenor of the game.
What happened midway through the second quarter? The Cougars (3-1, 0-1 in Pac-12 play) picked up a first down near midfield. Quarterback Cameron Ward was called for intentional grounding (a debatable call), which calls for a loss of down. Not the loss of two downs. But that’s what happened. WSU coach Jake Dickert ran down the sideline holding up two fingers for the linesman to see. Nope.
On, ahem, third down, the Cougars were conservative and ran the ball for a yard, then punted. Oregon fair caught it at its 5-yard-line. Commercial time – as happens seemingly endlessly on Fox broadcasts.
When we got back to the game, Brando couldn’t explain why referee Mike McCabe was under the hood for a replay.
“What this is about we’re trying to figure out,” he said.
Anyone with a DVR – and the ability to count to three – could. That must have included replay official Dave Lambros. When we got back from another commercial break, McCabe was giving the ball back to WSU and saying it was third down.
That this occurred two plays after the mistake happened but didn’t go back to where the error occurred – the down certainly dictated the Cougars’ next play call – seemed odd. WSU ran it again. Then punted. Again. This time, Oregon fair caught it at its 12.
“I have never seen anything like that,” the veteran Brando said. “I’m dumbfounded by this, I really am.”
• The call seemed to jump-start the Ducks. They marched down the field as Brando expressed the opinion that the “long delay really had an adverse effect on Washington State.”
Until it didn’t. That’s because Francisco Mauigoa read Nix’s throw to the flat, picked the pass at the Cougars’ 5 and ran it all the way back. The 95-yard scoring return gave WSU a 17-6 lead.
Tillman pointed out how the Ducks (3-1, 1-0) had run the same play just prior on a fourth-down conversion. They went to the well and this time it was Mauigoa with the bucket.
What we saw
• The Cougars knew Oregon would rush the passer. Hard. So, the offense started with a trick play, then a play sheet full of quick-hitting passes. It led to a touchdown on their first possession and much of their 142 first-half passing yards. But this is big-time college football and adjustments were made (see Mauigoa’s interception). Oregon did and Ward, who finished with 375 passing yards, had to use his feet more often.
One of the best moments was supplied by his feet, when Ward escaped the pocket to his left and scored from 5 yards out with no one in the same ZIP code.
Brando did the right thing. He and Tillman stayed quiet and let the Martin Stadium crowd do the talking.
That wasn’t Brando’s plan when Ward connected with Nakia Watson for a 25-yard, fourth-quarter completion, an anything-but-ordinary connection. The Incarnate Word transfer escaped another aggressive UO pressure, stumbled as he tossed the ball forward a few yards to Watson, and then watched as Watson took it for a key first down.
Brando and Tillman just couldn’t stop raving about the play.
Or the next one, which came three plays later. It was also was hard for them to describe. Ward escaped the pocket, another sure sack and found Watson for 12 yards.
“This is otherworldly, again, that’s only way I can describe this kid,” Tillman said.
“With (Ward) at quarterback, anything might happen,” Brando said later in the same fourth-quarter, game-clinching drive.
• Brando spent quite a bit of time wondering about, and politicking for, Washington State in the polls.
“How in the world is Washington State not ranked?” he asked in the fourth quarter.
Brando shouldn’t have to talk about WSU’s poll standing next week.