A loss, yes, but big progress for Cougs

SEATTLE – Someday, Oregon vs. Washington State is going to be Baylor-West Virginia 2.0. Mike Leach and Chip Kelly are going to say the hell with defense and show the offensive weapons of a 70-63 game.

But that day was not going to happen Saturday night. We knew that. We knew there was virtually no way in 2012 Washington State could match touchdowns for four quarters with the Ducks. And they didn't. Oregon was mostly impressive in its 51-26 win over WSU.

I don't know precisely what the Cougar-dominated crowd of 60,929 expected to see Saturday night, but I wanted to see a heartbeat. I wanted to see what this WSU team had in its gut, coming off a devastating loss to Colorado and facing an Oregon team that takes no prisoners.

Was Washington State's performance gutty, gritty, pick your "tough" adjective? That's your call. But it was a step in the right direction, particularly during the first two quarters.

Coach Mike Leach rightfully questioned the Cougars toughness following the Colorado loss. It would have been easy for WSU to bow its heads in shame again after the Ducks jumped to a frighteningly easy 20-3 lead 14 minutes into the game.

But this time, Washington State showed some resolve. So much so that the Cougars had a chance to take the halftime lead before collapsing to Oregon's defensive pressure on its final drive of the second quarter. The offense, defense and special teams each took a shot at the No. 2 Ducks.

Too bad the Cougars couldn't just keep playing, rather than head for the locker room. It's where good performances have gone to die this season for WSU.

"We were too excited," WSU coach Mike Leach said. "We shouldn't be excited that we made plays. We shouldn't be surprised that some good things happened to us. … Why? Because we do it all week long."

Rewind this tape: a good first half, followed by an empty second half.

Like the previous four games this season, the Cougars stumbled after halftime. Oregon put the pedal to the metal and scored three touchdowns during the first 11 minutes of the third quarter. The Cougars had some moments, such as Deone Bucannon's interception early in the fourth quarter, but there were far too few good plays.

Washington State has now been collectively outscored 69-27 during the second half of its five games. It's even worse during the third quarter: during this period, opponents have outscored WSU 34-7.

If anything is going to come of this season, what happens after halftime has to change. Generally, I hate the time-worn line of thinking that Coach So-and-So is a genius because of the adjustments he makes at halftime. I don't think this is the case with Leach. This has more to do with the players state of mind, failing to sustain their blocks, Halliday holding on to the ball too long, receivers dropping pass after pass, defenders taking poor angles.

There are some games that can be won this season, but not until the Cougars solve the black hole that is the second half.

Despite losing by 25 points, Leach is probably right in saying this "was our most complete game. I thought we played for 60 minutes. … the personal effort from our players was the best work we've done this season."

Oregon is the best opponent WSU has faced this season, and it's not close. That the Cougars were bounce back from an early setback to make it a game heading into the second half is noteworthy. It was also apparent that even though the Ducks imposed their will on WSU in the second half, it seemed as though the Cougars competed throughout the game.

Keep that up, and it will pay off at some point later in the season.

One more thought before signing off here: on the field, you may not have liked the score. But this was anything but a disaster as a game in Seattle. There was great fear that Oregon would turn CenturyLink into a de facto home field Saturday night. Not the case. The stadium was decidedly crimson. Of the nearly 61,000 in the stadium, there was less than 10,000 Duck fans. This was a solid turnout by a WSU fan base still reeling from the Colorado defeat.

Well done, people.

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