I guess I can exhale now. Considering the recent history of this rivalry, I feared this game more than any other on Oregon’s remaining schedule. Mission Accomplished.
This week: Oregon vs. Washington State
Arguably one of Oregon’s better performances this season; yes, quarterback Anthony Brown only threw for 135 yards, but it was pretty obvious from the outset that the Ducks were going to lean on their run game to earn the victory, and that plan was wildly successful; a week after gashing the Huskies for 329 yards on the ground, Oregon pounded the Cougars for 306 yards on 47 carries, with Brown leading the way with 123 yards on 17 totes and a touchdown (and a second score that was incorrectly called a fumble by the sight-impaired PAC-12 officiating crew, but I digress). Freshman Byron Cardwell continued his ascension, just missing the century mark with 98 yards on a mere 9 carries and two scores. Travis Dye continued to do Travis Dye Things, though his second quarter fumble led to a Cougar touchdown to cut Oregon’s lead to 14-7.
Ah, that second quarter. For all the positives from Saturday’s contest, once again Oregon showed an inability to put together a complete game. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead and giving fans the impression that they were in for a laugher, the Ducks decided to take the second quarter off— Oregon went punt, fumble, punt, end of half in their four drives in the quarter, by which time Washington State managed to score twice, leading to the two teams retiring to the locker room tied at 14. Luckily the Ducks awoke from their slumber after half time, stimulated by Mykael Wright’s scintillating 56 yard return on the opening kickoff which gave Oregon a short field and led to Anthony Brown’s brilliant 17-yard touchdown run to give the Ducks back the lead which they would not relinquish.
Despite once again playing with a juggled roster, Oregon’s offensive line had a strong game, keeping the penalties to the minimum (a single false start flag on Oregon’s opening drive), and opening holes big enough to drive a truck through for the running backs. Brown didn’t pass often (only 22 drop backs, netting 17 completions for 135 yards and a touchdown), but the O-line kept the pocket clean for the most part, allowing only 1 sack and no hurries.
Conclusion: Oregon’s offense managed to gain 441 total yards, 25 first downs, a 75% third down conversion rate (8-12), scored 38 points, and held the ball for over 35 minutes. By the third quarter the o-line was imposing its will on the Cougars, who were completely incapable of stopping the onslaught. The passing game was an afterthought— Johnny Johnson lll was the leading receiver with 3 catches for 43 yards— but Anthony Brown was successful on 77% of his passes and kept the mistakes to a minimum, though he did throw several maddening check down passes on second-and-third-and-long situations that made yours truly want to pull his hair out. Otherwise a solid overall game from Brown and the offense.
Final Grade: B+
Don’t let the final numbers fool you— with the exception of the aforementioned second quarter, Oregon’s defense dominated this game. The Cougars scored 24 points and gained 371 total yards (280 passing, 91 rushing) but subtract the meaningless final drive and those numbers drop to 17 and 310 respectively, well below Washington State’s season averages. Oregon’s secondary struggled at times, including the inexplicable lapse on the opening drive of the game which led to a 70-yard completion from Cougar quarterback Jayden de Laura to Calvin Jackson Jr., but they redeemed themselves somewhat with interceptions by Verone McKinley lll in the first quarter and Bryan Addison in the fourth, whose pick essentially sealed the game for the Ducks. Oregon’s d-line and linebacking corps came ready to play, continually harassing de Laura and forcing him to make throws out of the pocket and on the run, which he struggled with all game. While his overall numbers were satisfactory (20 for 36 for 280 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions), several of his passes were off-target, killing promising Cougar drives. The defense kept Washington State’s running game in check as well, holding the Cougars below their season average and allowing only 3.6 yards per carry. Kayvon Thibodeaux rebounded from a fairly quiet game statistically speaking against Washington, with 6 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss, and 2 big sacks. Freshman linebacker Jeffrey Bassa (4 combined tackles, 1 QB hurry) continued his strong play, as did little used fellow freshman defensive tackle Jayson Jones (2 combined tackles, including 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack).
Conclusion: Air-Raid offense vs. young, struggling secondary usually is a recipe for disaster. But apart from the aforementioned opening drive derp, and a couple of miscues during the black hole that was the second quarter, the Duck defense played a strong game; and though the game was tied at the half, Oregon seemed in control throughout, thanks largely to the stout play of the front seven. The Ducks were focused and poised, only committing two penalties as a unit, including the ridiculous pass interference flag on Washington State’s final drive. An excellent effort all around.
Final Grade: A-
Another quality game for the entire unit. Cam Lewis nailed all five of his PATs and his lone field goal from 22 yards, making him a perfect 10-for-10 on the season. Tom Snee was called upon to punt 3 times for a total of 122 yards, or 40.7 yards per boot, with 2 of his 3 downed inside the 20 yard line. While the Ducks didn’t manage any punt returns, the kick return game showed signs of life, with Mykael Wright averaging 39 yards per return, including the 56-yarder noted above. Oregon’s punt and kick coverage were solid, allowing no punt return yardage and keeping Cougar return man Travell Harris to only 21 yards per return.
Conclusion: A steady performance from the most consistent unit on the team. Their talents will surely be tested next week in what will be the Ducks’ biggest test since Ohio State back in September.
Final Grade: A-
Oregon came into the contest with what appeared to be a well thought out game plan: commit to the run game on the offensive side, put pressure on the QB and force him to make bad decisions on the defensive side. Both facets were executed to a ‘T’, with the possible exception of the now infamous second quarter malaise. But credit Head Coach Mario Cristobal for refocusing the troops at halftime, as Oregon outscored Washington State 24 to 10 in the second half and took control on both sides of the ball, outgaining the Cougars 284 yards to 138 in the deciding two quarters.
Conclusion: Both Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead and Defensive Coordinator Tim DeRuyter called excellent games Saturday, and both made superb in-game adjustments as well. Oregon kept the mental mistakes to a bare minimum, and were only called for 5 accepted penalties for 41 yards. The Ducks will need all of their focus and effort next week against a tough Utah team on the road.
Final Grade: A-
Oregon’s uniforms: On the whole I don’t care for the white lid, green top, white bottom look, but these were almost the identical kit the Ducks wore in the 2014 PAC 12 Championship game against Arizona, the last Oregon game I saw in person, so I’ll cut them some slack, A-
Atmosphere: ELECTRIC. Probably the loudest, most boisterous Autzen crowd I’ve heard all season, well done fans, A
The Game Day Broadcast: Well, I missed the entire first quarter because ESPN wouldn’t dare cut away from an ESS EEE SEE snoozefest, and my Sling subscription doesn’t include ESPN812, or whatever flipping channel they relegated the Oregon game to while Mississippi and Texas ATM wanked off... and seriously, WTF IS UP WITH THE LACK OF CAMERAS AND PICTURE QUALITY? Disney has more money than God, why can’t they give ESPN’s west coast production teams some decent freaking equipment to work with? Oh, and I wound up listening to Flemming and Gilmore in the second half as I couldn’t get the teevee and radio synched up, and honestly they were fine, almost deferential to Oregon, surprisingly. But that picture quality... C-