Cougars fight, but Ducks roll in second half

Craig Strobeck

The Oregon Ducks hosted the Washington State Cougars Saturday night, in a matchup of two teams with extraordinary offenses.  One hundred combined points later, the Ducks emerged victorious, 62-38.  WSU set several offensive records (related to pass attempts, completions and yards) and QB Connor Halliday kept throwing ’til the end, but the Cougars were ultimately no match for the Ducks, who improve to 7-0 on the season (4-0 Pac-12).  WSU falls to 4-4 (2-3 Pac-12) on the season.

The Ducks (sporting pink helmets, shoes and socks supporting breast cancer awareness) looked sharp early-on but were hurt by three first-half fumbles and numerous penalties on special teams and defense.  De’Anthony Thomas (ankle injury) did not play for the third consecutive week, and linemen Cameron Hunt and DeForest Buckner were given the start over right tackle Jake Fisher and defensive tackle Arik Armstead, respectively.

Mariota's athleticism is what truly separates him from other QB's.

Craig Strobeck

Mariota’s athleticism is what truly separates him from other QB’s.

Oregon got out to an early lead after a 57-yard touchdown run by Mariota, on which he cut back across the field and outran the entire defense to the pylon, extending his streak of consecutive games with a rushing touchdown to nine (every game since OSU last year).  Byron Marshall then scored on a 1-yd TD after the Ducks stopped WSU on 4th down at midfield; this was a major opportunity missed by the Cougars, as Halliday couldn’t connect with an open receiver on a comeback route.

WSU responded, however, with a big pass play on their next drive and moved inside the red zone due to a penalty on senior linebacker Boseko Lokombo for a late hit out of bounds.  Halliday would then hit Dom Williams with a perfectly thrown pass on third-and-goal in the corner for an 11-yard TD.  Oregon would answer quickly and scored less than a minute later, when Marshall ran 26-yards through the right side, showing great finishing speed to beat the defense to the pylon.  End of the first quarter: Ducks 20, Cougars 7.

After trading punts for a few series, Mariota avoided pressure from several defenders and hit freshman tight end Johnny Mundt for 26 yards, moving the ball to the WSU 21-yard line.  It was a play that few QBs can make, and one of the reasons that Mariota is on a short-list of Heisman candidates.  Mariota then hit running back Thomas Tyner over the middle for a 20-yard gain, with the freshman making a terrific leaping catch.  Tyner then punched the ball in from the 1-yard line on the next play.  Score: 27-7 Ducks, 13:21 remaining in the second quarter.

Mariota was able to avoid pressure several times and make big plays downfield.

Craig Strobeck

Mariota was able to avoid pressure several times and make big plays downfield.

WSU nearly scored on their next drive, but safety Erik Dargan put his helmet on the ball at the goal line and forced a fumble by WSU receiver Vince Mayle into the endzone, where linebacker Rodney Hardrick recovered the ball for a touchback.

While this was another big break for Oregon, only four plays later the Cougars forced another Mariota fumble, when they sacked him on third down.  WSU then threw seven consecutive passes, before scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass (on 4th down) to freshman wide receiver River Cracraft.  Score: 27-14 Ducks, 6:10 remaining in the second quarter.

WSU scored again 45 seconds later when Mariota was sacked and fumbled, the second such play on consecutive possessions by the Ducks.  However, with this fumble WSU defensive lineman Xavier Cooper scooped up the ball and displayed impressive athleticism for a 304-pounder while running 29 yards for the scoop-and-score touchdown.  Score: 27-21 Ducks, 5:35 remaining in the second quarter.

Thomas Tyner displayed his sprinter speed on a 66-yard TD run in the third quarter.

Craig Strobeck

Thomas Tyner displayed his sprinter speed on a 66-yard TD run in the second quarter.

Right when Cougar fans started feeling momentum and began making a little noise at the start of the next drive, Thomas Tyner broke through the line for a 66-yard TD, a play which was made possible due to a crunching block by wide receiver Keanon Lowe.

This was the first ‘meaningful’ TD in Tyner’s career (Ducks fans should expect quite a few more) and was responsible for dampening any momentum that WSU would have carried into halftime; though the Cougs did move the ball downfield to make a 49-yard field goal to make the score a too-close-for-comfort 34-24 at the break.

The Ducks opened the second half with two quick scores (Mariota pass to Lowe from 10, Marshall rush from 30) and the Cougars never again posed a serious threat.

Halliday went on to amass 557 yards passing on 89 attempts (an NCAA record) but also threw three second-half interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD by cornerback Terrance Mitchell.  Halliday did throw two TDs with less than five minutes to play against Duck reserves, but he was never able to throw downfield effectively against the Ducks’ starting secondary.

The only issues coming from this game that Duck fans have to be worried about are ball security and the Ducks’ protection of Mariota.  He lost two fumbles and Marshall also lost the handle on the ball when he was stripped at the end of a big catch and run.  The Ducks’ offensive line struggled at times against the pass rush of the Cougars, particularly in the second quarter, and Mariota was hit often and hard.  Be confident that Helfrich and the coaching staff will address the issues, and don’t expect to see three turnovers from the Ducks again this season.

At Autzen Stadium the Oregon Ducks meet the Washington State Cougars

Craig Strobeck

Terrance Mitchell’s 3rd-quarter interception return for a TD was another nail in the coffin for WSU.

Defensive backs Erick Dargan, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell and linebacker Derrick Malone all had interceptions.  Byron Marshall rushed for a career high of 192 yards, and Thomas Tyner added 99 in a night that saw the Ducks rush for 383 yards total.

This was a true coming-out party for the pair of them, as Tyner showed he can be a consistent spark both running and catching the football, and Byron showed that he is capable of putting up stats similar to LaMichael and Kenjon.  Josh Huff led the Ducks receivers with five receptions for 75 yards, and Bralon Addison added 49 yards on six touches.

Marcus Mariota finished 23-32 passing for 327 yards with two TDs, no interceptions, and added eight carries for 67 yards (8.4 yard average) and a TD.  Halliday’s record-setting line was 58-89 passing, 557 yards, four TDs, and four interceptions.

Next Saturday the Ducks will host No. 9 UCLA, who lost to No. 13 Stanford, 24-10, down on the Farm.

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