In spurts, Washington State looked like a team thinking upset.
The Cougars raced around the field, pounced on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and rode the arm of quarterback Connor Halliday to 38 points against a stingy Ducks’ defense.
“Washington State always plays us tough,” Oregon defensive back Terrance Mitchell said after the game.
In the end, however, it was the repeated visions of Oregon running backs’ breaking tackles and racing towards the end zone that led to the Cougars eventual demise. The tandem of running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner used their individual career bests in rushing yards to outlast a hungry Washington State team. Marshall finished with 21 carries for 192 yards and three touchdowns while Tyner almost eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time in his collegiate career. He finished with 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Mariota, who came into the game without committing a single turnover on the season, fumbled twice, one leading to a Xavier Cooper scoop and score for the Cougars that made the score 27-21 midway through the second quarter. Even with the two turnovers, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich believes the way Mariota handled the adversity will better him in the long run.
“I think Marcus is a stud,” Helfrich said following the game. “Marcus is amazing, he’s a driven guy. I think he played really well and we’ll get better because of some of the hiccups.”
In fear of letting momentum slide all the way into the grasp of the Cougars, the Ducks needed a spark and they got it immediately. Using wide receiver Keanon Lowe as a lead blocker, Tyner split two would-be Cougar tacklers and bursted down the sideline 66 yards for the touchdown.
Last year, Oregon entered halftime leading only 23-19 against the same Cougars, but outscored Washington State 28-7 in the second half on their way to a 51-26 victory. This year’s second half was much of the same.
Oregon emerged from the locker room with a 34-24 lead, but took advantage of the half’s first drive. Mariota led the Ducks down the field in expedient fashion, finishing the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Lowe to make the score 41-24. Oregon never looked back. The Ducks outscored Washington State 28- 14 with a highlighted effort of the first team defense taking over in the third quarter.
“I thought we played very well in the third quarter,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “We took the game over, maybe that’s why (Washington State), thought they had to throw the ball more.”
Halliday, who broke the NCAA record for most pass attempts in a single game with 89, attacked the intermediate level of the defense throughout the night. When he decided to air it out and throw it deep, Oregon’s secondary was ready to go up and make a play.
“They were nickel and diming us,” Mitchell said about Washington State’s offensive scheme. “It was kind of frustrating chasing them around. They didn’t really throw it down field a lot.”
Playing a team that throws the ball in such an unprecedented manner, like Halliday did tonight, can take some adjusting too. In the first half the Ducks’ defense was a little shell shocked, but at halftime they made the necessary adjustments to force turnovers and keep the Cougars out of the end zone.
“I think the first half wasn’t the way we play football,” Oregon outside linebacker Tony Washington said. “We tried to pick it up in the second half and I think we did a good job of that.”