As lopsided as the final score was, it could have been a lot worse than that, even in the first half. However, a spirited effort by the defense in the second quarter and an offense that capitalized in the red zone allowed WSU to go into half only down by 10 points.
As the game got away from them in the third quarter we saw some of the same things that have undone Washington State in previous games -- turnovers by the offense and blown assignments on defense.
Yet I still saw a team out there that battled until the final whistle. As they say, the season is 'more marathon than sprint' and as much as we all would have liked to see the Cougars go 9-3 in Year 2 of the Mike Leach era, that just wasn't going to happen.
CF.C'S MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK AS A Houston TEXAN IN 2008.
But if this Cougar team can continue to learn from week to week, they will realize their goal of reaching a bowl game.
As always in a loss like this there a number of things Washington State could have done better, but also some good things that stood out. Here are five game thoughts:
1. Defense: As we have gotten into the meat of the Pac-12 schedule the Cougar defense has become Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At times they are ball-hawking and aggressive. Other times they seem passive and unsure of their assignments. The second quarter was the first time all year I have seen Oregon's offense stymied. The secondary did a great job covering downfield during that stretch while the defensive line created pressure with just a three man rush. Still, Washington State has to find more consistency on defense going into the final four games of the season.
2. Tackling: A large part of the defensive issues on Saturday had to do with tackling. Many times the Cougar defense was in great position to finish a play but simply couldn't bring the Oregon ballcarriers down. Obviously the Ducks deserve a lot of credit because their scheme creates one-on-one matchups in space. Two plays stood out to me as examples of Washington State being victimized by poor tackling. On Oregon's first touchdown of the game, safety Deone Bucannon missed Marcus Mariota for what would have been about a four-yard gain. The Cougars started the game playing a lot of Cover 4, which allows the safeties to be downhill players to stop the run. Bucannon played it perfectly but just missed the tackle, leading to a touchdown. On the Ducks' last drive of the half, following the fumble for a touchdown, Thomas Tyner ran through three Washington State defenders on his way to a 66-yard touchdown. Although the Cougars were able to kick a field goal just before half, it still ended up being a four point swing they could have avoided.
3. Dropbacks vs. Quick Passes: The Washington State offense operates at its best when the ball gets out of Connor Halliday's hand quickly. We have seen too many times this year when drop back passes with multiple reads has led to sacks or poor decisions on throws down the field. The past few weeks I have not seen nearly enough of the Air Raid screen game. If teams are going to continue to drop eight guys into coverage, Washington State needs to get the ball into the hands of its athletes quicker, instead of trying to force it downfield.
4. Separation against man coverage: A few weeks ago against Cal I mentioned how the Cougar receivers did a great job beating man coverage on the outside, forcing the Bears to play more zone. They had a tougher time against the Oregon secondary. Twice on third down in the first quarter the Ducks played man, but the WSU receivers couldn't separate for Halliday. On Connor's first interception, Vince Mayle couldn't get on top of the Oregon cornerback and ended up falling down. With fade routes into the end zone like that, the quarterback is trusting his receiver to win and essentially just throwing the ball to a spot.
5. Connor Halliday: As is the case with any football team, quarterback play is going to continue to be the No. 1 topic of conversation. I think for the most part Connor had a solid game in an incredibly tough environment. The fact is, if he's not playing, the Cougars are not even in the same ball park as the Ducks. He had a great rhythm and made some incredible throws, especially in the first half. The second interception was a very poor throw and those types of decisions have to be eliminated for the Cougars to win games against the top tier of the Pac-12. But overall, Halliday was seeing coverages well and making good choices/changes at the line of scrimmage. I still stand firm in my belief that as long as he is healthy, Connor Halliday gives the Cougars the best chance to get to a bowl game.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Brink was the starting quarterback at Washington State from 2004-2007, throwing for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in school history – and the third-most yards in Pac-10 history. He was picked second-team all-Pac-10 twice and honorable mention once. Drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Texans in 2008, he spent a season on their practice squad before playing three years in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2010-2012.) Brink signed with Montreal of the CFL in 2013. Prior to that he was the head quarterbacks coach for the Barton Football Academy based in Portland. He can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.