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TV take: Cougars look better, but Oregon offense proves too much for Washington State

By Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

The better Cougars showed up for their ABC appearance Saturday afternoon. Problem was, the better Ducks did as well. With both teams coming off tough defeats, it was ninth-ranked Oregon that had too much.

Too much Bucky Irving. Too much Bo Nix. And too much red-zone defense for Washington State in a 38-24 decision in Eugene.

As Irving – who left early in the fourth quarter – ran for 159 yards and had 51 yards receiving, we were treated to an understated but informative TV experience, thanks to Bob Wischusen, Greg McElroy and Mollie McGrath.

What they saw

• Let’s start off by taking a moment to note the ascendance of McElroy. He’s become one of college football’s best color commentators.

The former Alabama quarterback has always been well-prepared heading into games. But he exhibited another level in his knowledge in this one, focusing on the Cougars’ strengths and weaknesses.

It was most displayed in his conversations concerning Cameron Ward’s performance, not only Saturday – 34-for-48 passing for 438 yards – but the last couple of weeks as well. Part of Ward’s (and the Cougars’) issues in those revolved around the play of his protectors.

McElroy offered a reason for part of it. He mentioned how a bigger group of UCLA and Arizona defensive linemen overpowered the inside of the Cougars’ line. He used center Konner Gomness as his example, who, McElroy pointed out is “only” 286 pounds. The same problem existed in this one.

He correctly pointed out how important it was for the Cougars to handle the Oregon (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) pass rush. When WSU (4-3, 1-3) used running back Nakia Watson to help, McElroy was quick to acknowledge his blitz pickups – and to explain how Ward used the sliver of extra time to slither out of the Ducks’ clutches – throughout the game.

“He’s had time to operate and he’s made big plays through the air,” McElroy said.

• How much has the Cougars’ offense missed a healthy Lincoln Victor? It was a different looking group in Eugene, and Victor, fed by Ward, was nearly unstoppable. The senior finished with a school-record 16 catches for 161 yards, the former, of course, a career high.

• Everything is relative, of course, and related, too. The Ducks used their superior size on the other side of the ball to take control of the game, starting in the second quarter.

Two Oregon touchdown drives covered 75 and 61 yards and turned a 10-3 WSU lead into a 17-10 UO advantage. Key point, which McElroy pointed out: All of the nonpenalty yardage in both came on the ground. The total: 129 yards.

That rushing attack led off McElroy’s analysis to start the second half. McGrath quoted Dickert as saying, “This game will come down to those interior four guys,” coming out of the locker room. Made sense.

Then the Ducks decided to throw the ball on their first second-half possession. Six consecutive times. And ended up punting. Huh.

Oregon returned to the ground after that, including a 43-yard, one-cut explosive run by Irving into the end zone that gave UO an insurmountable 31-16 lead.

What we saw

• Worlds collided on the final play of the first quarter, with the usual hard-to-fathom Pac-12 officiating decision met by approval from ABC’s officiating commentator Matt Austin.

The play in question was a third-and-4 WSU screen to Josh Kelly, a play sniffed out early by the Ducks’ Trikweze Bridges. Too early, obviously. Even before Ward let go of the ball – he double-clutched – Bridges grabbed Kelly, then wrapped him up and knocked the ball away.

The original call was pass interference, an impossible call due to the ball never passing the line of scrimmage. The Cougars were awarded a first down. Then came a conversation. The flag was waived off. The reason, according to referee Cravonne Barrett? The ball was tipped. Cue Austin, who has, seemingly, never met a call he couldn’t explain away. He talked about the tip being by Kelly behind the line of scrimmage, which negated the penalty.

But the obvious defensive holding, which could have been assessed, being ignored? Crickets.

• If you couldn’t watch the game on ABC and picked up the Cougars’ radio network broadcast, you might have thought, for a moment, you had the wrong station. One of the voices on the radio sounded different.

Matt Chazanow was on injured list for the game – laryngitis – and usual sideline reporter Jessamyn McIntyre stepped in. The interesting part of her appearance? It was the first time in school history a female had joined the booth. That it was McIntyre was appropriate.

She has been the sideline reporter for more than a decade, dealing with Mike Leach’s numerous sprints off the field, pandemic challenges and Jake Dickert’s loud, “Go Cougs.” She’s professionally dealt with them all. So it’s little wonder she was ready to step into uncharted territory .