The only thing worse than having a monkey on your back is having a Cougar on your back. Because if there’s a Cougar on your back, it probably has its jaws locked around your neck as you lay there in the dirt, bug-eyed, getting the life sucked out of you. As you “enjoy” your last few moments of life, there’s that little voice inside your head screaming, “Holy crap! This isn’t how I thought it would end.”
Fade to black.
And that’s pretty much how life has felt for Duck fans over the past four years when it comes to their Northwest rival from the Palouse. Except for Oregon fans, there has been no fade to black to put them out of their misery. They’ve had to live every single agonizing day knowing that they keep losing to those damn “Coug-it” Cougars for what seems like forever.
So it was with great joy, and in dramatic fashion, that the Ducks ended their longest losing streak to WSU since 1984.
All that progress and the sense that the Ducks had finally “brought it all together” was seemingly out the window, as the sluggish Oregon offense struggled to find its rhythm. The offense that seemed to have found itself in its last two wins against Colorado and Washington was nowhere to be found.
Outside of an 89-yard CJ Verdell touchdown scamper, nothing seemed to be working for the Ducks. The play calling was predictable and easily snuffed out, and Justin Herbert was regularly pressured. He finished the first half a pedestrian 7 for 11 with 64 yards.
Keep in mind that this was a Cougar defense that gave up an average of 39 points per game in its first four Pac-12 outings, along with massive amounts of yardage. Heck, even their Defensive Coordinator resigned in early October.
Not exactly the ‘85 Bears.
The Ducks defense wasn’t fairing much better and easily could have given up more than 17 points when considering the Cougars dropped two passes that should have been touchdowns. Fortunately, the defense had a big play of its own when Jevon Holland picked off Anthony Gordon and ran it back 19 yards for a score.
Much like last week against the Huskies, the Ducks offense persevered in the second half by consistently running the ball. While Mario Cristobal rode the hot hand of Cyrus Habibi-Likio last week, there’s no doubt that against the Cougars, it was Verdell (23 carries for 257 yards, 3 touchdowns and 4 catches for 56 yards) who was completely on fire while the Ducks slowly grated away on the Cougars defense. Meanwhile, the Ducks defense did a good job of bending but not breaking in the third quarter, giving up only a field-goal.
But unlike the fourth quarter in Seattle, where the Ducks defense shut out the Huskies, the Cougars put together an impressive drive to pull within three and keep things close. The Ducks were once again facing a second-half gut check. Up six with just over six minutes left, the Ducks needed at least another field goal to put the game away. But on a key third and six, Herbert overthrew Verdell on a screen pass that should’ve gone for a first down.
The Ducks punted, and Gordon marched the Cougs down the field on an impressive drive capped by a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal pass with under a minute to play. Herbert and the Ducks took over with 52 seconds left, and, with workmanlike precision, marched 52 yards into field goal range.
Given the Ducks kicking woes this season — and missed extra point after Oregon’s first touchdown against WSU — it seemed like the Ducks may have wanted to try to take a couple shots at the end zone before leaving the game to the foot of the kicker, Camden Lewis. But Cristobal opted to have Herbert position the ball in the best spot for the field goal attempt, take a knee, and kill the clock.
The Ducks Have a Target on Their Backs
As the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12, it’s becoming clear that teams are giving the Ducks their best shot, as they view them as the class of the conference. Last week, the Ducks clearly got the best game the Huskies had played all season, and the Cougars fully admitted they gave their best as well.
Cougar Head Coach Mike Leach: ”We played very well, I thought this was the best game we played so far.”
WSU cornerback Armani Marsh: ”I felt like this was the best game that we played.”
And finally, Anthony Gordon: “We wanted to make a point that we could run with the best of them, I thought we did a pretty good job of doing that.”
And in a compliment to Verdell and the Oregon running game, Leach added, “Their backs are really tough, really tough to bring down; they’re a running back driven offense.”
While this may not have been the solid “W” Duck fans were hoping for, it does show that this team has a certain savvy of late to win the tight games and take their opponent’s best punch. This can only help the Ducks moving forward, as they are becoming more and more battle-hardened every week, priming for their stretch run towards a Pac-12 title.
And this victory sure as heck gets that damn life-sucking Cougar off everybody’s back.
Spokane, WashingtonTop Photo by Kevin Cline
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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