Cougars secure sixth straight, move to No. 8

WSU football leaves Oregon with their third consecutive victory over the Ducks


Courtesy of Adam Eberhardt | Daily Emerald

Sophomore defensive back Marcus Strong outmaneuvers Oregon’s defense during the game Saturday.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

WSU football (6-0, 3-0) concluded their first road trip by knocking off University of Oregon (4-2, 1-2) with a score of 33-10 Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

The win was enough to jump the Cougars three spots in Associated Press’ top-25 poll to No. 8 in the nation — three rankings behind No. 5 University of Washington.

Earlier this week, Head Coach Mike Leach identified Autzen Stadium as the loudest venue in the Pac-12. However, the Ducks struggled against the Cougars’ defensive effort.

Although fans of Cougar football are used to Leach’s air raid offense stealing the headlines, third-year Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch’s “Speed D” stole the show Saturday.

The Cougs came up with stops in short yardage situations. In the first half, they denied Oregon a touchdown on the goal line and held the Ducks short on two separate fourth down opportunities.

With the injury woes at the linebacker position for WSU, redshirt freshman linebacker Justus Rogers stepped up. In a hostile road environment, Rogers was able to impress Grinch with his play.

“Talk about Justus Rogers who had to step in and fill in for Nate DeRider, who was filling in for Isaac Dotson,” Grinch said. “Obviously, I am very pleased, that is a heck of an environment to get such meaningful reps.”

Rogers was not the only freshman on the field required to fill a big role.

Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister got the nod to start in lieu of injured sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. Across-the-board experience for the Cougar defense proved difficult for the quarterback in his first collegiate start.

“[Oregon] did all of that cloak and dagger, ya know, guess who they’re gonna start. But we didn’t care,” Leach said. “They have an offensive identity that they’ve had for a long time. Obviously [Burmeister] was going to try and duplicate that.”

Oregon’s offense features a running attack with senior running back Royce Freeman leading the way. Historically, the Ducks have been unkind to the Cougar defense, having posted at least 30 points in 10 straight matchups heading into Saturday’s contest.

WSU locked down both the run and pass game of Oregon, denying an 11th consecutive 30-point performance.

The Cougars added three more takeaways to their name while holding Oregon to only 277 total yards, a season low for the Ducks. Oregon was only able to convert on third down twice in 17 opportunities.

WSU put up a season low for total offensive yards in the game. But, redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk garnered enough production from his offense to win with a commanding lead.

“Early on, we weren’t clicking. I wasn’t putting the ball in play and was off target on a few throws,” Falk said. “Hats off to them, they’re a good defense, and hats off to us for being gritty and just keep fighting.”

Falk’s first pass of the game was one for the books.

On a toss that led to a 41-yard touchdown scamper by redshirt senior running back Jamal Morrow, Falk passed former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota for total career touchdown passes in Pac-12 history. He now ranks second on the list.

Redshirt senior running back Gerard Wicks took advantage of the seven times his name was called. Wicks, who led the team in rushing touchdowns last year, has taken a smaller role compared to Morrow and redshirt sophomore running back James Williams leading up to Saturday.

His team-leading 58 rushing yards were good for an average of 8.3 yards per carry.

WSU is now 6-0 and eligible for a bowl game. The Cougars have not been eligible for a bowl game through the first six weeks since 2001, when the team began 7-0. They look to repeat that feat on the road against California (3-3, 0-3) on Friday.