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Washington State defense bends, eventually breaks in 44-41 loss to No. 15 Oregon

PULLMAN – Washington State’s defense repeatedly splintered through the first 45 minutes of Saturday’s game against No. 15 Oregon.

The Cougars finally snapped inside the final 15 minutes, conceding 29 fourth-quarter points to the Ducks in a gut-wrenching 44-41 loss at Gesa Field.

In a way that was vaguely reminiscent of their 67-63 loss to UCLA in 2019 – a game that also saw WSU give up 29 fourth-quarter points – the Cougars extended their lead to 12 points on Robert Ferrel’s 1-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes, 48 seconds remaining before allowing Oregon to punish them with big passing plays and complete an improbable comeback.

A 21-yard completion from Bo Nix to Bucky Irving on fourth-and-2 extended Oregon’s ensuing drive, which was capped by Cam McCormick’s 1-yard touchdown, and the Ducks took their first lead of the game on Nix’s 50-yard heave to Troy Franklin.

The Cougars withstood Oregon’s big plays for the better part of three quarters, but in a game that saw them roll up 624 total yards of offense, the Ducks capitalized in the most crucial moments, handing WSU its first loss this season.

“I thought they did a good job of coaching,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said of Oregon. “We couldn’t affect them and they had some good schematics to roll out one way and throw it across the field, and we didn’t execute at all. We didn’t do good enough and I didn’t do a good enough job adjusting and that’s on me.”

Despite a 305-163 advantage in total yards, the Ducks entered halftime trailing 17-9.

Oregon converted three pass plays of 20-plus yards on its first two offensive drives, but WSU’s stingy red-zone defense forced the Ducks to field-goal attempts on both of those.

Oregon’s rushing offense produced three carries of at least 12 yards on the third drive of the half, but the Ducks’ red-zone offense faltered again when Nix’s sideline pass was intercepted by linebacker Francisco Mauigoa, who returned it 95 yards for a touchdown.

The Ducks saw another big passing play go to waste on their next drive – a 42-yarder from Nix to Dont’e Thornton – and settled for their third field goal of the half. Oregon’s four trips to the red zone in the first half netted nine points.

“We should be able to do that all game,” WSU linebacker Travion Brown said. “We train all winter, we train all summer for times like this where we play for 60 minutes, so we should be able to do that all the time.”

WSU’s defense didn’t do it nearly enough in the second half , particularly in the fourth quarter, allowing 29 points in a span of approximately 14 minutes – nine fewer than they’d allowed in their first three games combined.

Oregon hit on another deep pass on the opening play of the second half when Nix connected with Kris Hutson for 55 yards, setting up his 12-yard touchdown pass two plays later.

Oregon finished with 12 pass plays of 15 yards or longer, including plays of 38, 42, 50 and 55 yards. The Ducks tacked on 178 total rushing yards with nine carries that went at least 10 yards. The 624 yards WSU conceded were the most since the 2019 loss to UCLA, when the Bruins passed for 507 yards and rushed for 150 more to complete a 32-point comeback.

“Credit goes to Oregon, they made the plays. I thought their scheme was fantastic,” Dickert said. “I think over the course of the game it just wore on us a little bit, but they had 77 plays, we had 73. So I think you look at it that way and I think both defenses were reeling and on our heels.”