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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Difference makers: WSU’s Cam Ward, Lincoln Victor on same page early, but Bucky Irving runs wild in loss to Oregon

EUGENE, Ore. – Here are three difference-makers and a key moment from Saturday’s Washington State/Oregon game.

Cameron Ward

Ward was far from perfect, but he looked more like the quarterback who piled up passing yards during the first four weeks of the season – a huge reason why WSU trailed by just three points at halftime.

Early in the second quarter, he scrambled out of the pocket and placed a perfect pass in the hands of receiver Kyle Williams, who hung on for a 47-yard completion, setting up what turned into a Nakia Watson touchdown rush. Ward also re-established a connection with receiver Lincoln Victor, who played a complete game for the first time since going down with an ankle injury, and he was patient enough to take underneath throws.

That was a meaningful development for Washington State, whose offense looked far better in large part because its offensive line looked far better. Tackle Esa Pole held up well on the edge, and even running back Nakia Watson stood in for a couple key blitz pick-ups. Guard Brock Dieu did the same on a couple occasions.All told, Ward completed 34 of 48 passes for 438 yards and one touchdown, adding 11 carries for 30 yards.Ward can only be Ward with time. He had it on Saturday, at least early on.

Lincoln Victor

Even when Victor was only 85% recovered from his high-ankle injury, like he was in last week’s loss to Arizona, he opens up the offense in a way other receivers cannot. He’s fast enough to force defenses to respect him, even when they don’t respect the Cougs’ running game, which is important for an offense that was sputtering.

He returned to action with one of his finest performances: 16 catches for 161 yards. He consistently found the right spots to be in when Ward scrambled out of the pocket.

Victor hauled in catches that went for 37, 20, 19, 15 and 14 yards.

Is he back? He certainly might be.

Bucky Irving

Washington State had no answer for Irving and Oregon’s run game. Irving totaled 15 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He had several huge gains, including a 31-yarder, a 40-yarder and a 43-yard touchdown rush up the middle, when WSU safety Sam Lockett missed a tackle, handing Irving a clear path to the end zone.

The Cougs couldn’t guard Irving even when he became a receiver. Early in the third quarter, WSU neglected to cover him, so he split out in to the flat, where Oregon quarterback Bo Nix found him. Irving did the rest, bolting 42 yards into the end zone, good for a 24-13 lead.

Irving did his most damage when it became clear Washington State was really struggling in the running game, which came late in the first half. On back-to-back drives, he punched it in from 2 yards out. The first score tied the game at 10. The second handed Oregon a 17-10 lead.

Key moment The game seemed to swing on one play in particular – or lack thereof.

The Cougars were driving late in the first half, looking to take the lead. On first down, the Cougars ran a trick play, which put the ball back in Ward’s hands. Ward looked for tight end Cooper Mathers, back in action for the first time since a hamstring injury sidelined him for the past two games. Mathers, by himself along the sideline. Mathers put his hands up and dropped the ball. On fourth down, WSU tried another trick play, this one with Victor attempting a pass. That fell incomplete. Oregon turned that into a touchdown and 17-10 lead.