It's a funny thing when more people turn out for Oregon than they do for a Homecoming game against Cal. Maybe folks knew the results would be better. The Cougs recorded their first Pullman win over Oregon since 2002 and their first victory over a ranked team since the 2003 Holiday Bowl win over Texas. All in front of a sellout crowd on a shirt-sleeve weather, clear blue sky day. Ya can't beat that.
Even Coach Doba conceded the first quarter was pretty sloppy – marked by turnovers by both teams. The Cougs got it going in the second quarter and never fell behind. WSU led 13-3 at the half, and held multiple score leads over the Ducks all the way until the end of the 34-23 win. It was exactly the type of win the Cougars needed - a total team effort for a full game over a quality team. With four games left to go – UCLA, Arizona, ASU, and UW – the Cougs need only one more win to become bowl eligible. Any – or all – of the remaining games look winnable, and Saturday's victory could be a good springboard for the rest of the schedule.
1) Alex Brink: They call him Accuracy Man. Brink set a new Cougar record for completion percentage – 87% - in going 20 for 23 for 179 yards, 2 TDs, and a pick. Coach Doba said after the game that the pick was largely the result of a receiver breaking off a route, and made a point of noting that Brink draws too much blame when things have gone wrong.
2) Jed Collins: Collins can just about do it all, and just about did. Collins made special teams tackles, blocked, caught a touchdown pass for the Cougars' first score, and ran in a touchdown as a fullback in the second half. Not a bad day for No. 41.
3) Run defense: The Cougars defensed the run extremely well. Much hyped Jonathan Stewart was held to 28 yards on 11 carries and Oregon had 104 net rushing yards on the day. This was also with WSU playing a 3-4 for most of the game after Ropati Pitoitua and Aaron Johnson went down with injuries. Much credit to the linebackers and to Matt Eichelberger and Bryan Tarkington for stepping up when Pitoitua and Johnson went out.
4) Dwight Tardy: Tardy has been getting better all season, and had a breakthrough game Saturday. Tardy accounted for 145 yards on 20 carries and scored a fourth quarter touchdown that basically sealed the win when the Ducks were threatening a comeback.
5) Clutch special teams: SOME special teams play (more on that later) was fantastic. The Cougars recovered both late onside kick attempts by Oregon in the fourth quarter to further stifle any Duck comeback hopes. Darryl Blunt averaged 49.3 yards on 3 punts, including one that was downed on the Oregon one foot line.
1) Injuries: The Cougs got tagged hard. It's not known how long folks will be out, but Ropati Pitoitua went down with an MCL sprain, Aaron Johnson went out with an elbow injury and x-rays showed a bone chip there, Andy Roof went out with a badly bruised heel, and Tyron Brackenridge – after scoring on an interception return – went out with a pulled hamstring. Just what the Cougs need, more hurt starters, especially on the line.
2) Placekicking: Loren Langley had a bad day. Langley had a PAT blocked and almost returned for Oregon points after WSU's first score, and later missed a makeable field goal attempt that would've helped put the game away in the fourth quarter.
3) Pass defense: The Cougars managed a Lance Broadus sack, got pretty good pressure, and gave Oregon starter Dennis Dixon fits, but Brady Leaf came off the bench and seriously sparked the Ducks, escaping the pass rush almost every time and completing 16 of 27 for 262 yards and 2 fourth quarter TDs. Oregon ended up with 367 net yards passing.
CougZone Player of the Game – Jed Collins: Collins had an outstanding game and really did it all just about everywhere for the Cougs. His two scores very much helped the Cougars get the win and he set up his rushing TD himself by bringing in a long pass to give the Cougs a first and goal.