Ducks get best of WSU

Cougs come up short in crucial meeting with Oregon

The+WSU+offense+runs+back+to+the+sideline+during+the+second+half+of+a+college+football+game%2C+Saturday%2C+Oct.+23%2C+2021%2C+at+Martin+Stadium+in+Pullman.

KEDZIE MOE

The WSU offense runs back to the sideline during the second half of a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen reporter

The Cougs faced off against Oregon in a battle for control of the Pac-12 North on Saturday night, losing to the Ducks 38-24.

Oregon’s key to victory was their offense. The Ducks put up 441 total yards in the win, with 306 yards coming from rushing plays. Quarterback Anthony Brown’s run game consistently gained yards for the Ducks, putting up a career-high 123 rushing yards and one touchdown. Byron Cardwell had the second-most rushing yards with 98 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cougs came out hot to start the game. On the second play of the game, quarterback Jayden de Laura threw a 70-yard pass to Calvin Jackson Jr. De Laura then ran the ball to the left side of the endzone and reached for the pylon. Unfortunately for de Laura and the Cougs, the football came out of the quarterback’s hands, bounced in the endzone and then out of bounds for a touchback. 

Oregon then took over on offense and failed to breach the WSU defense, resulting in a three-and-out. The Oregon defense responded with a three-and-out of their own, showing that both offenses would have to work for yards.

Oregon showed they were up to the challenge on the next drive, scoring the first points of the game with a 1-yard run up the middle for Travis Dye. The touchdown was Dye’s 12th touchdown of the year.

The Oregon defense answered their offense’s success with success of their own with safety Verone McKinley III catching an interception. The interception was WSU’s second turnover given up in the game. McKinley III finished the game with eight total tackles, leading the team.

Led by Brown, Oregon crossed the goal line yet again in the hands of Dye. Brown took note of an incoming Cougar rush, completing a touchdown pass to a wide-open Dye and bringing their lead to 14-0.

After a slow first quarter, the Cougs responded with a touchdown of their own on a 14-yard pass from de Laura to De’Zhaun Stribling to bring the score to 7-14. 

WSU evened the score 14-14 with a quick, 1-yard quarterback run from de Laura. De Laura put the Cougs in the red zone with a 22-yard pass to Travell Harris.

“He knows how to find me,” Harris said about de Laura. “He does an awesome job back there scrambling and escaping the pocket, actually staying in the pocket. I just do my best to try and get open for him.”

Brown put the Ducks back in the lead with a 17-yard touchdown run, 21-14. The touchdown run was Brown’s third run over 12 yards in the game. A field goal late in the third quarter for Oregon furthered their lead, making it a two-possession game 24-14.

“I think it really started in that first drive, they come out and get the short field, they end up punching in the touchdown,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said about the third quarter. “It took a little bit of the air out of our sails of battling back in the first half.”

WSU’s Jaylen Watson recovered the ball after a fumble by Brown in the endzone, running the ball from the endzone to the 50-yard line. The play was reviewed and the call stood to the dismay of a booing Oregon fanbase.

De Laura wasted no time after Watson gave WSU the ball back, throwing a 39-yard pass to Harris. Unfortunately for Coug fans, Kayvon Thibodeaux invaded the backfield once again, sacking de Laura for a loss of 9 yards. Thibodeaux finished the game with six tackles and two sacks.

“We slid to him, we chipped him, we had the back working to his side in extra protection,” Dickert said about Thibodeaux. “They did a good job, sometimes they would slide him inside, they would stand him up and move him to different spots so we didn’t know where he was. He’s the best player in America.”

De Laura could not find Stribling in the endzone on third and 16, bringing the kicking unit onto the field. Dean Janikowski kicked a field goal to bring the Ducks’ lead down to seven and make it a one-score game, 17-24.

Oregon running back Cardwell scored the next points of the game on a 27-yard touchdown run up the middle of the WSU defense. Cardwell’s touchdown brought the Ducks’ lead to 31-17. 

Oregon sealed the victory with an interception caught by Bryan Addison with just under four minutes to play. Adding salt to the wound, Cardwell rushed into the endzone for his second touchdown of the game, bringing the Ducks’ lead to 38-17.

In throw-away time, WSU scored a touchdown on a 2-yard pass from de Laura to Harris, adding seven points to make the game 38-24. 

Oregon, now 9-1, went on to win 38-24 over the Cougs, now 5-5 and still one win away from a bowl game appearance.

The Cougar defense continued to force turnovers against Oregon, bringing the team’s total forced fumbles to 16 and now the No. 1 team in the FBS in average turnovers by opponents with 2.5 takeaways per game.

The Oregon special teams unit put on a punt return clinic, averaging 39 yards per return with the ball in sophomore Mykael Wright’s hands. Wright’s longest return of the night was a 56-yard return which put Brown and the Oregon offense in position to score.

Currently, Oregon is the top team in the Pac-12 North, followed by WSU in second. The win is a step closer to a Pac-12 North title for the Ducks and likely a ticket to the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas.