EUGENE, Ore. — Though the task ahead for the Washington State football team may be mountainous, it isn’t complicated.
To stay with the second-ranked and Pac-12 Conference-leading Oregon Ducks, the Cougars won’t require gimmicks or surprises. Nor will they need a superhuman effort or a colossal collapse by America’s flashiest team.
No, to win this game Washington State needs merely — with perhaps a dash of luck — to play as they are capable of playing, and avoid the self-destructive tendencies that have been trademarks of their losses.
While Cougars coach Mike Leach’s initial reaction to his team’s fourth-quarter collapse against Oregon State last week was vim and vitriol, a pair of nights to sleep on the matter provided perspective. There was no unconquerable mountain standing in their way of a victory in that game, no uncovered deficiency that heralded doom for the remainder of the season.
“I think we panicked,” Leach
said. “I think both sides of the ball tried to make too much happen and then one overcorrection led to the next.”
Nothing better illustrated that than the play of Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday. The junior had the most passing yards in the Pac-12 a game before, and had put together seven good quarters in a row before melting down in the fourth quarter against the Beavers. It was an ugly quarter with three interceptions in just six pass attempts. But it’s not like Halliday can’t throw a football.
“I think he’ll do good,” Leach said. “(He’s) disappointed, knows he can do better. It’s apparent he can do better. I thought he played really well for three quarters.”
Linebacker Darryl Monroe has an idea of where WSU can improve.
“My biggest thing, I would say just little things, embracing the atmosphere of what’s going on,” Monroe said. “If things aren’t going your way, don’t just be somewhere frantically to make a play and turn things around.
“We just need to stop, take a breath and get back to where we play ball, and I feel like that would be a great turnaround to the defense.”
WASHINGTON STATE (4-3 OVERALL, 2-2 PAC-12) VS. OREGON (6-0, 3-0)
7 p.m., Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
TV: FS1. Radio: 710-AM.
The series: Oregon leads, 45-38-7, and has won six in a row over the Cougars. WSU’s last win over Oregon came in 2006, 34-23, in Pullman. The Cougars’ last win in Eugene was in 2003, 55-16.
KEYS TO A WSU VICTORY
Put the Oregon State game to bed: All week long the players and coaches have insisted there is no hangover from the brutal fourth-quarter loss against the Beavers. But the last time we saw the Cougars, they were giving up 35 consecutive points to let a tight game turn into a laugher. There’s no way to tell how they’ll respond.
Ignore the crowd: This will be the most hostile environment the Cougars have faced this year, and if they get rattled then this game will be over early. Granted, WSU has played at Auburn this year, but by all accounts the crowd was in a “wait-and-see” mindset in the first game after the Tigers’ three-win season in 2012. While there were plenty of boos in the USC game, most were reportedly for since-fired Trojans coach Lane Kiffin. Autzen Stadium will be rocking today, and the young WSU team will have to shut out the sound.
Take care of the football: The WSU defense has done an admirable job of collecting takeaways this season, but it hasn’t given the Cougars much of an edge thanks to the offense’s penchant for giving away the football. Imagine if the Cougars played each other. Oregon turns turnovers into touchdowns faster than they come up with new uniform combinations.
Pray: The Ducks aren’t the second-ranked team in the country just because of their flashy uniforms. Oregon’s program is every bit the machine that USC was in the mid-2000s and cast aside a long line of would-be challengers. The Cougars could play a great game worthy of the third- or fourth-best team in the Pac-12 and still lose by three touchdowns. To win, they’ll need a little help.Jacob Thorpe, The Spokesman-Review