I remember standing on the sideline in 2013 as we just completely dismantled the Ducks. Matt Kegel and Co. were in control of that game from start to finish. Having graduated from high school in Eugene less than six months earlier, it was a heck of a way to return home.
Rarely does everything in a Pac-12 game go your way like it did that day. There are always ups and downs that a team and coaching staff has to manage. I felt there were four instances where this Washington State football team did an excellent job overcoming adversity on Saturday -- and that was the key to getting the victory in Eugene.
End of the first half:
Up 10-7 with four minutes left in the first half, Kieth Harrington fumbled at the Oregon 30-yard line. This ended a promising Cougar drive and the Ducks promptly drove down and scored to make it 17-7. Washington State responded with a great drive, capped off by a beautiful throw and catch from Luke Falk to Gabe Marks to cut the lead to 17-14.
The drive itself was not without its own adversity as Dom Williams dropped a huge throw on third down, yet Falk came back with almost an identical pass to Marks to convert on fourth down. This series of events was crucial because it seemed that Oregon had regained much of the momentum heading into halftime and they were going to get the ball to start the second half.
However, by scoring heading into half the Cougars maintained their strong start. To start the third quarter the defense got a stop and the offense immediately went down and scored to take the lead 21-17.
Late in the 3rd quarter:
With just under four minutes left in the third quarter the referee crew (who were questionable all night) gifted Oregon a touchdown. The Ducks were attempting to run a screen play where the running back runs to the flat behind the line of scrimmage which allows the receivers to block their man. However, Royce Freeman clearly caught the ball in front of the line of scrimmage which should have led to an offensive pass interference call.
The referees at first called it right, then picked up the flag saying the play was legal. The call came on third-and-14 and if enforced correctly, because of an off-sides on WSU, would have meant another third-and-14 with WSU holding the better odds of being able to force a field goal try. Instead, Oregon ended up taking the lead 24-21 headed into the fourth quarter.
4th quarter defensive stops:
With eight minutes left in regulation, Oregon extended its lead to 31-21 and looked to all but close things out. Washington State came right back with an excellent drive that was undone by Harrington's second fumble after a long gain inside the Oregon 20-yard line. Up until this point the Cougar defense had really struggled with the Ducks’ running game. From a scheme standpoint, WSU often had guys in the right places but were having a hard time finishing tackles. It seemed Oregon would likely head right back to its powerful running game and finish the game off. Instead, the Cougar D responded with a three-and-out which allowed the offense to get the ball back with 5:50 left and got a field goal to cut the lead to 31-24.
Oregon got the kickoff with just under four minutes left and once again tried to pound it with Royce Freeman. Once again, WSU responded in an adverse situation and forced another three-and-out at the most critical point in the game. The offense was able to get the ball back with two minutes left and put together one of the gutsiest game winning drives we have seen in a long time,
Final drive of regulation:
This moment epitomizes what this article is all about. Right off the bat, Luke Falk was sacked and called (questionably again) for intentional grounding forcing the Cougars into a second-and-21. Following an incomplete pass, Falk and Dom Williams connected for a huge 23-yard completion to keep the drive alive. Talk about responding to adversity.
Almost immediately, the Cougars found themselves in another third and long situation that Gabe Marks was able to convert on a shallow cross where he essentially outran his defender to the first-down marker. Deep in Oregon territory WSU had to find a way to get into the end zone with precious little time to do it. Following a sack on second down, Falk did a great job finding River Cracraft to get into a fourth-and-manageable situation.
This read and throw by Falk may have been his best of the day.
Most teams tend to play with two safeties against Washington State, yet Oregon mixed in a fair amount of Cover 3 with one safety. This left them vulnerable down the seams, yet Falk had a tough time connecting in that zone throughout the game. On fourth down he recognized the coverage, Cracraft ran a great route and they were able to hook up for a huge gain. The drive was capped off by a touchdown to Williams on a fade in the back corner of the end zone with one second left.
Can't say it enough: the entire series was the definition of responding to adversity. Third-and-long is the toughest down in football, made even more difficult during a two-minute drill situation when the defense knows you are throwing the ball. The WSU offense was able to maintain its composure and put together the best drive of the season.
Special adversity shoutout:
I can't say enough about Williams and the way he handled himself against Oregon. He had a couple of tough drops earlier in the game but stayed confident and responded in a big way late in the fourth quarter.
Playing football in a Power 5 conference is incredibly difficult and there are always going to be some tough times. The way Williams bounced back late in the game really speaks to his character and the confidence his teammates and coaches have in him. Loved seeing that unfold on the field at Autzen.
Washington State may have found something special Saturday in Eugene they can use the rest of the season. The way this team was able to finish against the Ducks is going to give them a ton of confidence moving forward. This weekend in Pullman against Oregon State will be a great indication if the Cougars are trending in the right direction.
ABOUT ALEX BRINK: He authors this hugely popular weekly column during the season on Cougfan.com but once upon a time, Alex Brink was the starting quarterback at Washington State. And from 2004-2007, he threw 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 five years in the Canadian Football League: three campaigns with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2010-12) followed by two seasons in Montreal (2013-14). He is the quarterbacks coach at Lakeridge High in Lake Oswego, Ore., and does a weekly Pac-12 podcast. He can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.