Fresh-faced Coug D hangs with Oregon

PULLMAN-Oregon's offense lives to embarrass its opponent, and Washington State in recent years hasn't been an exception. But some tinkering to Saturday's defensive lineup by the Cougars produced sometimes exceptional results and almost led to an upset of the country's No. 2 team.

The Cougars managed to stay with Oregon until the very end, despite not having starting defensive end Destiny Vaeao on the field for a single snap. Linebacker Jeremiah Allison also started in Tana Pritchard’s place (coach's decision) and tied with Darryl Monroe for a team-high 10 tackles. Freshman Sulaiman Hameed made his college debut and made six total tackles, including five solos.

The Cougars sacked Marcus Mariota seven times, one by Paulo.

“Obviously it’s tough when you get behind the chains a little bit, and they force you into passing downs,” Mariota said. “The resiliency of those guys up front and some of the young guys that just played for the first time to step up in the second half and finish the game strong was huge.”

Oregon offensive linemen, sophomore Cameron Hunt and freshman Tyrell Crosby, both started against Washington State, with little experience under their belt. Hunt had nine career starts heading into Saturday's game, and had started twice in 2014. Crosby is a true freshman.

WSU's defense wasn't the only story. The Cougars offensive line shined at times Saturday night in protecting Connor Halliday, who threw four touchdowns and had zero picks.

“The biggest thing is the offensive line play,” Halliday said when asked about the reason for his clean night in the turnover department. “When there’s not much pressure, I don’t really turn the ball over.

“The way the offensive line plays really correlates with how easy it is to go through reads, so they played great.”

Halliday was making his reads left and right early on, and specifically to the left. The Cougars' senior hit X receiver Dom Williams for the first two WSU touchdown passes of the game.

In the second half, River Cracraft stepped up and eventually led the team with eight receptions, 107 yards and a touchdown that came in the fourth quarter, which tied the score at 31-31.

“He’s a guy you never have to worry about, which is nice,” Halliday said of Cracraft. “You always know where he’s going to be, you always know how he’s going to run a route, and he’s a tough son of gun. I love to play with him.”

As polished as the WSU passing game was, it wasn’t enough to stop the glittering offense of the Ducks.

Wide receiver Devon Allen caught seven passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns to lead Oregon. The Cougar defense did not have an answer for Allen, who scored an 80-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter. Daquawn Brown struggled to stay with Allen as the wide receiver constantly showed off his speed. Allen is the reigning NCAA 110-meter hurdles champion.

Darius Lemora also struggled at times against the Oregon receivers, getting beaten by Allen and Keanon Lowe, who caught two touchdown passes, including a 57-yarder that tied the game at 14.

Mariota did not look beaten up after the game, despite the constant pressure from the Cougar defense. He finished with 13 rushes for 58 yards, and ultimately had to do most of his damage through the air. The Cougars got the Mariota five times during the first half, and added two more sacks after halftime.

“A couple times I couldn’t get his ass down,” Cooper said. “I was trying to strip the ball but he got bigger over the offseason so I was trying to strip the ball and get him down at the same time, so I’m just trying to get a turnover and get the offense back on the field. That’s my whole mentality.”

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