Cool, Calm, Costa Helps Cruise Ducks To Win

When adversity struck in the form of injuries to key Oregon players -- including starting quarterback Darron Thomas -- senior quarterback Nate Costa demonstrated poise and a steady hand as the Ducks ultimately got their feet under them in their 43-23 win over Washington State at Martin Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

(PHOTO) Oregon quarterback Nate Costa (7) passes to Jeff Maehl, not seen, during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Washington State Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Oregon won 43-23. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

In the midst of all the troubling injuries and frustrating self-inflicted wounds, there appeared to be one constant for the 3rd ranked Oregon Ducks in Pullman, Washington on Saturday afternoon.

And no, it wasn't one of the Ducks' usual suspects.

It was Nate Costa -- the steady, selfless, senior quarterback from Hilmar, California -- who was ready to assume the position.

After sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter, Costa, who was beaten out by Thomas during fall camp for the starting quarterback position, came in and kept the seemingly unstoppable machine that is the Oregon offense rolling. In spite of being thrown into the fire, Costa admitted he remained cool and poised when his time came, with panic never entering into the equation.

"I felt like I had a really good week of practice from an individual standpoint, so it kind of just carried over into the game," said Costa. "It wasn't a long process to get comfortable. It just felt like I was out there with my boys throwing the ball around and it felt good."

Though both Thomas and Oregon head coach Chip Kelly stated after the game that the Houston, Tex. native could have returned if need be, Costa finished the game 13-of-15 passing for 151 yards and one touchdown. That, along with his 84 yards on the ground on a mere eight carries, aided the Ducks (6-0 overall, 3-0 in conference) in their 43-23 victory over the Washington State Cougars.

Stellar numbers for a player who didn't figure into the original game plan.

A typical performance for a program that has gotten used to replacing star quarterbacks.

"I thought Nate was tremendous," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, who joked after the game that he's run through 27 quarterbacks during his time at Oregon. "I've said all along that we've got two quarterbacks that can start in this league and that's fortunate for us."

"What he did today didn't surprise anyone on our team or on our coaching staff."

What did come as somewhat of a surprise was Costa's athletic ability, particularly running with the football. No play typified his deceptive speed more than his 43 yard scamper that came during his first series at quarterback taking the Ducks down to the Cougar 4 yard line, before sophomore running back LaMichael James capped off the drive with a 1 yard touchdown run.

"I wish I would have got it in," said Costa, who was smarting some as he described getting chased down on the play. "I got caught from behind and I'm gonna catch a lot of flack from my teammates for that, but it was a pretty long run. I think it was longest of my college career, so it was a fun one to get that one down."

Costa would make up for it later, adding an 18 yard touchdown run and a 34 yard scoring toss to senior wide receiver Jeff Maehl, who finished with 10 catches for 119 yards. For Maehl, Thomas' absence was no cause for concern, saying that Costa's mental approach and feel for the game didn't allow the Ducks to lose a step.

"He does such a good job of reading the defense, making smart decisions, and executing our offense," said Maehl. "When he comes in the game, we feel like we haven't missed a beat."

Indeed, it was Costa's preparation that brought a calming effect over a team that was reeling emotionally in the first half. The loss of Thomas, coupled with the loss of sophomore running back Kenjon Barner -- who left the game in an ambulance due to a concussion he suffered on a kickoff in the first quarter -- left the Ducks somewhat frazzled. Additionally, despite being ranked as one of the country's worst defenses in terms of yards allowed, Washington State played with an air of confidence, flashing great speed and aggressiveness defending the vaunted Oregon spread.

"They attacked and they played hard through all four quarters," said Costa. "That's something they didn't used to do...their defensive line and their linebackers were flying around and making a lot of plays. Anytime you get good d-line play, it's going to make it easy on your linebackers and that was the case today."

In the end though, it was Costa's leadership and experience that rang true throughout the tumult. With No. 1 Alabama's loss earlier in the afternoon to 19th ranked South Carolina, the Ducks will likely become the No. 2 ranked team in the nation behind Ohio State when the Associated Press and Coaches' Poll is released Sunday; however for a grounded Costa, today was all that mattered.

"Any Pac-10 win is great," stated Costa, "and I'm pretty damn proud. (Rankings) don't matter to us. We're undefeated, we haven't lost a game in Pac-10, we're going to continue rollin' the way we are and use this bye week to rest up."

"UCLA is going to get our best shot."

Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney

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