Washington State started fast Saturday night, and finished strong too, one last Oregon State rally (of 5) not withstanding, and as a result, the Cougars upended the Beavers, and headed back to Pullman with a 56-37 win. In between, all manner of chaos occurred.
It was #Pac12LongAfterDark (where anything can happen) game, a Coug game (where any number of weird things usually do happen), and a renewal of one of the northwest rivalry games (where literally generations of history have a way of bubbling up) all rolled into one.
Its a shame its the most lightly attended Pac-12 confrontation, in part because the teams have the 2 smallest stadiums in the conference, but then neither team consistently distributes all of its tickets, much less uses them all, because regardless of whether the Cougs Cuog it, or the Beavers do, something always seems to happen that no one saw coming. This was the case Saturday night, as though Oregon State managed to distribute 34,429 tickets, there were never 30K people in the place at any point. Those that were there saw plenty they didn’t expect.
Unfortunately for the Beavers, some things everyone did see coming also happened. The Oregon State defense struggled to disrupt the Washington State offense, missed more tackles than anyone will take the film study time to fully count, and watched their secondary get carved up. To the tune of 430 yards passing by Gardner Minshew, who completed 30 of 40 passes, and threw for 5 touchdowns. And the beleaguered Beavers gave up 100 rushing yards, this to a Cougar team that doesn’t run.
After routinely giving up program record rushing nights to start the season, 100 yards doesn’t sound so bad. But Washington State did that (and 10 yards more) on just 17 carries, as the final totals include 4 sacks of Minshew and the kneel down that ended it.
That as many stayed after the first 2 1/2 minutes as did was probably because not all of them had even made it to their seats from the beer line by then, and missed the explosive start.
Washington State went 3 and in, covering 75 yards on 3 passes for the opening score in a minute and 16 seconds. Oregon State went 3 and punt, which Washington State blocked, and covered for the touchdown that made it 14-0 2:24 into the game.
But the Beavers rallied, tieing it on the first 2 of Jemar Jefferson’s 4 rushing touchdowns before the first quarter was close to over.
The Cougars retook the lead, but the Beavers went ahead on another Jefferson score with nearly 5 minutes left before halftime.
Washington State took a 28-24 lead to the locker room at half time, on James Williams’s touchdown catch, above, a half minute before the break, but Oregon State took the opening drive of the second half, and retook the lead on Jefferson’s 4th score not 3 minutes into the 3rd quarter.
But then the Cougars blew it open, scoring 4 touchdowns in just over 20 minutes, pushing the lead to 56-30, before a late Beaver score by B.J. Baylor, one of several backups mixed in for both sides, his first collegiate touchdown. As a result, Oregon State almost, but not quite, covered the spread as 17 point underdogs. (Covering the spread, not winning, is what Oregon State is playing for most weeks in now recent years.)
Experience was the difference, and it showed up in 2 key sequences, which took only a few minutes of the 3 1/2 hour long wild (and wildly entertaining) affair.
In addition to the 2 touchdown quick start, there was a game swinging sequence early in the 4th quarter that also had a 2 touchdown impact, this on a game decided by less than 4 scores.
Oregon State, though down 8, thanks to an earlier missed extra point, was driving, and looked to have a shot to tie the game, after reaching the Washington State 9 yard line. But after a carry forward to the 4 by Jefferson, the Cougars’ Taylor Comfort ripped the ball loose. It rolled forward into the end zone, and Jalen Thompson recovered it for a touchback.
The Cougars then put together the longest drive of the night, covering 80 yards in just over 3 minutes, and just 6 plays, the last a 27 yard touchdown throw from Minsher to Davontavean (Tay) Martin, the game’s leading receiver, with 8 catches for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns.
It’s wasn’t exactly unprecedented; 5 years ago in Pullman, Oregon State scored 3 times in just over 2 minutes, and added another score less than 3 minutes later, and picked off Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday 3 times, on their way to 5 unanswered scores, and a 52-24 come from behind blowout win that emptied out Martin Stadium faster than a fire drill would have, this after the Cougars had taken the lead on 3 different occasions.
At that time, the Beavers were the better, and more experienced team, coming off the Alamo Bowl season, and on their way to a bowl win in Hawaii. The Cougars would recover to make it to the New Mexico Bowl, the site of one of the more notorious Cuog it episodes, but that was book-ended by 3 win seasons.
None of the players in last night’s Washington State romp played in that game in Pullman, and most of the coaches involved have had job changes since then in the tumultuous world that is modern day FBS football. But one that hasn’t is Cougar head coach Mike Leach, and though there have been a series of Washington State wins since then, last night’s back and forth affair bookended by key sequences when it mattered the most, at once proved quite satisfying to more than a few Cougs, and showed how the fortunes, and the recruiting, of both programs have swung since then.
The Beavers haven’t been to a bowl since then, and being consistently noncompetitive has as a byproduct very limited big moment experience. The Cougars have been to 3 quality bowls in a row, and are headed to another, and have played in a lot of big games. Even the ones that didn’t go so well for them provided the kind of experience that mattered in the few moments that proved game decisive.
There were some things everyone did see coming that were positive for Oregon State did happen, including yet another stellar effort by Jefferson, who ran for 138 yards and scored 4 touchdowns, which made him only the second Beaver running back ever, along with Ken Simonton, to score 4 touchdowns in a game twice in their career.
Artavis Pierce, injured in the first half of Oregon State’s win over Southern Utah, also returned to action, rushing 8 times for 40 yards.
And both Timmy Hernandez and Trevon Bradford had good nights. Hernandez had 6 catches for 92 yards, and Bradford added 68 yards on 8 catches, along with a 56 yard run on a reverse.
But Isaiah Hodgins, who missed his second game with a sore hamstring, was sorely missed.
And there was something no one saw coming, the pass from Case Rogers to Champ Flemings on a kickoff return that started with Flemings lieing down, and wound up on Sportscenter before the game was even over.
It was one of a number of trick plays, several of which worked, that Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith and his staff pulled out of the playbook. An appreciated effort that provided excitement, and proved Smith is continuing to not only try things, but actually take the time in preparation to install those things, to make the Beavers the most they can be, whether its enough to win or not.
Unfortunately, Oregon State also saw something too similar to something they have seen before. when in the 4th quarter, and the game too far out of reach to be able to win, Connor Blount took off (and ran for a first down), but suffered a potentially separated shoulder when tackled.
It was the second year in a row that an Oregon State quarterback was seriously injured running after the game was lost against Washington State, after Jake Luton suffered a season ending back injury last year in Pullman.
Fortunately, Oregon State has a bye, and therefore 2 weeks, before resuming action against California, in the Homecoming game, during which Blount might be able to recover, or Luton, who has been out of action since suffering an ankle sprain at Nevada, may be able to get healthy.
The Beavers (1-5, 0-3) will need one of them when they try to end their 16 game losing streak against FBS opponents, in one of their best remaining opportunities this season. The 3-2 (0-2 in the Pac-12) Bears were beaten 24-17 last night in Tucson by Arizona.
Otherwise, it will be a repeat of last night, where the Cougar band played to celebrate the win, before heading to the busses for a long ride home, while the Beaver band played long into the night, celebrating bright moments in another on balance disappointing evening instead of a win.
Cue another band number.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)