Two-minute drill: Down & out in Duck Country

WASHINGTON STATE MAY have flown down to Eugene, but its players found themselves aboard a runaway train in Saturday's 62-38 loss at No. 2 Oregon. Despite Connor Halliday setting a Football Bowl Subdivision record for most pass attempts, the Cougars found themselves overmatched and outscored in every statistical category in a game nowhere near as close as the final score indicated.

Junior quarterback Connor Halliday's errant deep pass was intercepted by Avery Patterson, who returned it 18 yards to WSU's 46-yard line. Three plays later, Byron Marshall scored on a 30-yard run that gave Oregon a 48-24 lead with 9:31 minutes left in the third quarter. Honorable mention: After WSU had clawed their way back to cut the halftime deficit to 10, the Cougar defense allowed Oregon to march straight down the field on a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive to quickly push the margin to 17 points.

Oregon put up video game stats, producing 719 yards of total offense. But the Cougars stayed close for a half as they eventually in the second quarter pressured quarterback Marcus Mariota into multiple mistakes.

  • On second-and-7, sophomore defensive end Xavier Cooper sacked Mariota. That helped set up the Ducks' first punt of the game late in the first quarter after scoring touchdowns on their first three drives.

  • WSU pressured Mariota, who fumbled as he was hit by Cooper. The ball was recovered by sophomore BUCK linebacker Kache Palacio at Oregon's 33. The Cougars translated the turnover into a touchdown when true freshman River Cracraft caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Halliday with 6:10 minutes left in the second quarter. That cut WSU's deficit to 27-14.

  • The Cougars again forced Mariota into a mistake when he fumbled as sophomore linebacker Darryl Monroe was sacking him. Cooper picked up the fumble and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to reduce the Ducks' lead to 27-21 with 5:35 left in the first half. Cooper's return was aided by a block from junior nose tackle Toni Pole.

  • After a 35-yard completion from Mariota to Marshall on fourth down to WSU's 12, senior safety Deone Bucannon stripped and recovered the ball. That allowed the Cougars enough time for Andrew Furney to kick a 49-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to cut their deficit to 34-24.

    Because of the game situation, we will go with Halliday's 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-5 that cut the Cougars' deficit to 27-14 with 6:10 remaining in the first half. An honorable mention goes to junior Isiah Myers, who took a short pass and turned it into a 39-yard gain over the middle down to Oregon's 22. That play set up WSU's first touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Halliday to sophomore wide receiver Dom Williams.

    WSU has struggled in recent weeks to contain the passing game, but the Cougars largely have been solid stopping the run since Auburn produced 295 rushing yards and 6.4 yards per carry in the season opener. Given that, it was disappointing to see the defensive front struggle to contain Marshall, who gained 192 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.

    The Cougars had a few explosive plays, notably Myers' 39-yard reception in the first quarter. But Oregon's dominance was best displayed through one statistic: yards per play. The Ducks averaged 10.2 to WSU's 6.3.

    Oregon was only 3 of 10 on third down. But if you look closer, Oregon didn't face a lot of third downs, ripping off huge chunks of yardage and regularly moving the chains on first and second down.

    The Cougars capitalized on a pair of second-quarter turnovers to cut their deficit to 34-24 at halftime. But WSU needed to dominate that statistic if it hoped to stay close in the fourth quarter. That obviously was not the case. The Cougar defense had a nice stretch in the second quarter but sandwiched around that, they were gashed all night long. Wide open receivers, wide open running lanes -- Oregon had a ton of explosion plays. More on the defense in a bit... Halliday's woes seemingly have become a weekly topic. Not all of the interceptions were his fault – a ball deflected off sophomore Gabe Marks' arms in the fourth quarter that was returned 51 yards for a touchdown by Terrance Mitchell and another pick was tipped – but some poor decision making again was a significant reason why the game got out of hand in the second half. Halliday's struggles are a concern moving forward when the Cougars face teams that appear similarly matched, such as Arizona and Utah next month. Repetitive mistakes could be the difference between WSU qualifying for a bowl. Halliday, who completed 58 of a Football Bowl Subdivision-record 89 passes attempts for 557 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions, came with the Cougars' running game nowhere to be found. WSU simply does not try to run the ball under Leach, even when it seems to work a little. As Oregon began to dominate the second half, it seemed bizarre that redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca did not see any playing time. Was WSU coach Mike Leach making a point that Halliday is his quarterback? One positive was Halliday finding the explosive Marks, who has been underutilized to this point. Marks caught a school-record 13 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. On defense, WSU surrendered more than 700 yards of total offense. Bucannon is an honors candidate and true freshman Daquawn Brown is an emerging talent at cornerback, but the Cougars' combination of inexperience and lack of a consistent pass rush make it difficult to contain opposing quarterbacks. At times, the defensive line and quick linebackers can contain the running game but against Oregon that did not happen. The second half saw WSU simply unable to stop Oregon, as the Ducks reeled off three long scoring drives to put the game away.

    While WSU senior punter Mike Bowlin struggled at times, his counterpart, Alejandro Maldanado, was not any better. The punt and kick return statistics were close to neutral, with the Cougars having a slight edge based on junior Rickey Galvin's 35-yard kickoff return in the first half. WSU secured the edge with Furney's 49-yard field goal to close out the first half.

    The Cougars have a bye, followed by Arizona State at home at 7:30 p.m. -- Oct. 31 -- on ESPN.

    ORE 6-0
    11:26: Marcus Mariota uses the read option to score on a 57-yard run.
    ORE 13-0
    8:43: Byron Marshall scores on a 1-yard run. Key plays: WSU's unsuccessful fourth down gave the Ducks possession at their own 45-yard line. Marcus Mariota found Josh Huff for a 21-yard gain down to the Cougars' 16.
    ORE 13-7
    6:36: Dom Williams 11-yard pass from Connor Halliday in the left corner of the end zone. Key plays: Isiah Myers took a short pass from Halliday over the middle for 39 yards down to the Oregon 22. Two plays later, Halliday was hit out of bounds on a scramble to draw a personal foul that gave the Cougars a first-and-goal situation.
    ORE 20-7
    5:47: Marshall scores on a 26-yard run Key play: Marshall caught a 19-yard pass from Mariota and then Oregon added 15 extra yards on a personal foul penalty. That took the Ducks to WSU's 45.
    ORE 27-7
    13:21: Thomas Tyner 1-yard touchdown run. Key play: Mariota found Tyner for a 20-yard completion to the Cougars' 1.
    ORE 27-14
    6:10: True freshman wide receiver River Cracraft caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Halliday. Key play: Williams caught a 12-yard pass on third-and-5 from Halliday down to the Ducks' 17.
    ORE 27-21
    5:35: Sophomore linebacker Darryl Monroe sacked Mariota, who fumbled on the play and was recovered by defensive end Xavier Cooper for a 41-yard touchdown.
    ORE 34-21
    4:40: Tyner broke a tackle and ran for a 66-yard touchdown run.
    ORE 34-24
    0:00: Andrew Furney 49-yard FG. Key play: Marks caught a 13-yard pass from Halliday down to the Ducks' 32, which set up Furney's kick.
    ORE 41-24
    13:00: Keanon Lowe 10-yard touchdown reception from Mariota. Key plays: Marshall had a 37-yard run to open the series. On fourth-and-1 at WSU's 34, Tyner gained 11 yards.
    ORE 48-24
    9:31: Marshall 30-yard touchdown run.
    ORE 55-24
    13:36: Josh Huff caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Mariota.
    ORE 62-24
    13:01: Terrance Mitchell returns a Halliday interception 51 yards for a touchdown.
    ORE 62-31
    3:48: Sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Halliday.
    ORE 62-38
    0:11: Junior wide receiver Bobby Ratliff caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Halliday.

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