The football series between the University of Oregon and Washington Agricultural College (which would become the State College of Washington in 1905 and finally Washington State University in 1959) began in the first year of the 20th century. WAC recorded a 16-0 victory in Pullman on November 9, 1901. The two schools played 7 times from 1901 through 1916 and split the series down the middle, 3-3-1. The overall series has since tilted in Oregon’s favor at 53-40-7.
Over the course of this series, I have decided to start the “modern” era of Oregon football with Bill Musgrave’s freshman season in 1986. On the Washington State side, this was the end of head coach Jim Walden’s tenure with the Cougars. WSU finished the season 2-6-1 in Pac-10 play including a 27-17 loss to Rich Brooks’ Ducks in Eugene. Dennis Erickson stepped in at WSU the next year and fared no better, losing to Oregon by scores of 31-7 and 43-28 in two tries. After going 9-3 overall in 1989 Erickson left for Miami (Fl.) and Mike Price took over in Pullman. He would remain the head coach of the Cougars until after the 2002 season when he was briefly the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Price’s first team broke the Cougars’ losing streak to the Ducks, winning 51-38 in Pullman despite going against what would turn out to be the first Oregon first team to qualify for a bowl game in more than 30 years. The next WSU victory in the series would also come against an outstanding Ducks team, the eventual 1994 Pac-10 Champions. Several weeks before the game in Pullman, Oregon’s starting QB Danny O'Neil had developed an infection in his throwing hand and backup Tony Graziani had stepped in. The Ducks rallied behind the sophomore southpaw and upset USC 22-7 in the LA Coliseum. There was confidence in Oregon with “Graz” under center going to the Palouse the next week despite the hostile atmosphere. Unfortunately Graziani suffered a concussion during the game. While O’Neil had healed to the point he could step in, he had been unable to practice in the preceding week and Oregon’s offense sputtered in a 21-7 loss. It would be the Ducks only conference loss of the season.
From 1994 to 1999 the two schools split the series 3-3. By 2000, Oregon had firmly arrived on the national scene and went to Pullman on November 4, 2000 undefeated in conference play. WSU was in the midst of much less successful season, but provided a stern test that forced Oregon QB Joey Harrington to lead a game tying drive in the 4th quarter to send the game to overtime. The Ducks’ defense held the Cougars scoreless in the first overtime and Oregon escaped 27-24. Due to Pac-10 scheduling oddities the Ducks returned to the Palouse the next season in 2001 with a team that had even higher expectations than the previous year’s, but which had been upset the previous week by Stanford. A second loss would extinguish any hope of reaching the BCS National Championship Game and put the, so far, undefeated Cougars well ahead of them in the Pac-10 standings. Oregon leaned on the run, including a then school record 285 rushing yards from Onterrio Smith. The Cougars still had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Oregon’s defense successfully defended three straight plays from their own 8 yard line to secure the win.
WSU’s teams in 2002 and 2003 were also strong squads and beat the Ducks both seasons. The WSU program would struggle to reach such heights again, winning no more than six games in a season and failing to reach a bowl game until after the hiring of head coach Mike Leach in 2012. Oregon went 10-1 against WSU from 2004 through 2014, only losing to the Cougars during the disappointing 2006 season. The 2014 game, despite the Ducks national championship aspirations, was a nail biter in the Palouse. Oregon’s offense was struggling with injuries along the offensive line. It took a go ahead drive led by Marcus Mariota and a controversial lack of a pass interference call on the Cougars’ next posession for Oregon to claim victory.
The close call against Leach’s team in 2014 would be a harbinger of tough times to come for the Ducks. “The Pirate” led the Cougars to 4 straight wins against Oregon. The 2015 and 2017 games in Eugene were games in which the Ducks were forced into using backup quarterbacks due to injuries, but the games in Pullman were straight up beat downs. In 2016, Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke’s unit was embarrassed by surrendering 280 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns on 40 carries against a Mike Leach air raid offense! The 2018 game saw ESPN’s College Game Day come to Pullman for the first time, and a raucous Martin Stadium crowd was rewarded with a 34-20 WSU victory that all but eliminated the Ducks from the conference title race.
The streak was finally broken at Autzen on October 26, 2019. The Cougars came in unranked but gave #11 Oregon all they could handle, taking a 35-34 lead with 1:00 left in the game. Oft-maligned freshman kicker Camden Lewis came in for a 26 yard attempt with 2 seconds left... and drilled it through! The Ducks haven’t lost to WSU since, but last year’s game in Pullman was a close back and forth affair.
Oregon is looking to get their season back on track at home after a heart breaking trip to Seattle. Let’s just hope the throwback uniforms don’t channel any energy from the 1994 game...