Washington State gave the rest of college football some hope in its 62-38 loss Saturday at Oregon: If it bleeds, we can kill it.
No. 2 Oregon, college football’s answer to the eponymous creature from the 1987 science fiction hit Predator, is loaded with weapons and shows almost no weakness. But the Ducks are imperfect, as Washington State demonstrated in Saturday’s contest.
Oregon pulled away to blast the overmatched Cougars, but the second quarter Saturday was the most vulnerable it has looked this season.
Washington was tied with the Ducks a week ago through one quarter, and trailing by only a touchdown after three. But the Huskies were a Top 20-ranked team, playing at home.
They also weren’t creating the same opportunities that kept the Cougars much closer than any other opponent has been against the predatory Ducks.
Washington State did what no other team could—the Cougars created multiple Oregon turnovers and were within a touchdown of the Ducks in the second quarter.
The Cougars recovered three Oregon fumbles, the same number the Ducks had given up in their previous six games combined.
It hasn’t always been successful, but Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske’s system uses aggressive blitz packages. The Cougar linebacker corps comes frequently—entering Saturday’s game, Washington State had 46 tackles for loss, No. 16 in the nation. It added six more at Oregon's expense.
Linebacker Darryl Monroe came on one such blitz to force a Marcus Mariota fumble, which Xavier Cooper returned for a Cougar touchdown.
Cooper forced another of his own in the second quarter.
Mariota turnovers have come at a high premium in 2013. In fact, his fumble Saturday was his first giveaway all season, as noted by FOX College Football—and he had two in a single quarter.
Marcus Mariota touches the ball on every play and that was his first turnover of the season.— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 20, 2013
Through seven games, the Oregon quarterback still hasn’t thrown an interception.
But upcoming Ducks opponents UCLA and Stanford, both of which are manned by two of the best linebacker corps in the Pac-12, surely took note of the success Washington State’s linebackers had coming on blitzes.
Oregon’s halftime lead was 10, but the 24 points Washington State mustered through the first 30 minutes matched the most the Ducks had surrendered in any one game all season.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach wanted to match tempo with tempo, and to that end his play-calling set an NCAA record. Quarterback Connor Halliday's 89 pass attempts broke a record Drew Brees previously set at Purdue for all Division I passers.
Halliday's 557 yards set the Autzen Stadium passing record, which, as Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com tweeted, was set by a pupil of current Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich.
Connor Halliday at 390 pass yards. Autzen record is 536 in '02 by Andrew Walter of ASU, whose position coach that day was ... Mark Helfrich.— Rob Moseley (@DuckFootball) October 20, 2013
Washington State is not the last opponent the Ducks will see who will look to counter their quick-strike offensive style with a pass-heavy philosophy. Rival Oregon State boasts the nation's top-ranked passing offense, on Saturday adding another 496 yards to its stat book in a rout of Cal.
Rarely does a team score 62 points and draw scrutiny. Such is the plight of a BCS Championship contender.
The Ducks will live under a microscope for the remainder of 2013, both from pollsters and pundits, as well as their remaining opponents.
Any perceived weakness will be something the rest of Oregon’s foes look to exploit, even if that weakness shows up in a 62-38 blowout.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.