Washington State got the best of Oregon State Saturday night in Pullman, needing every second of the game to pull out the 54-53 win that sends the Cougars to a bowl game. In more ways than one.
But as much as anything, and anything also includes amended officiating, Oregon State got the best of itself, outguessing itself, and playing such atrocious defense all night long that 5 takeaways couldn’t slow Washington State down enough to avoid a literally last second defeat, when Cougar running back Max Borghi scored from 2 yards out with 1 second left to complete a 2 touchdown comeback in the last 4 minutes of the game.
As a result, it is the Beavers, not the Cougars, who will have to go on the road next week to win a rivalry game against an favored angry opponent to end what will otherwise become a 6 year bowl drought.
The 5 defensive takeaways were almost the story of the game. But more of the same aggressive 4th down play-calling with the game on the line that Oregon State got away with in last week’s 1 point win over Arizona State backfired, just as it did at Hawaii. And ultimately cost the Beavers a game both times.
Coach Jonathan Smith correctly noted that if Oregon State executes the play, and they not only could have, they should have, in both losses, the Beavers win the game.
But have one of the best punters in the conference execute one well placed corner punt, and Oregon State would be bowl eligible heading into the Civil War.
Play the percentages and the story isn’t about Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon’s touchdown passes setting a new Pac-8/10/12 season record of 45 in just 11 games. Or about Gordon shredding the Beaver defense for over 600 yards, on 50 completions. Or about Borghi making good on his guarantee a week ago of a Cougar win in the bowl playin game Saturday night.
Instead, the story is about Jake Luton, above, who threw for 5 touchdowns and over 400 yards himself, engineering 4 4th quarter touchdown drives, including 3 in less than 4 minutes, to come back from 2 different 2 score deficits, on the same turf he suffered a fractured back 2 seasons ago, instead of Luton putting what would have been the game winning pass about 1 ball diameter too high for tight end Tegan Quitoriano to be able to haul it in.
Jemar Jefferson’s 4 touchdown night, with 132 yards on the ground, and 2 scores, and 3 catches for 52 yards and 2 more scores, including one that covered 54 yards, is also widely recognized instead of becoming a footnote in only the local coverage.
And a pass interference call that can be described as generous at best, and bogus by any objective analysis, made by an upset back judge that had just been embarrassed by having his obviously phantom immediately preceding targeting call overturned never happens, much less gifting Washington State the opportunity to complete their own late 4th quarter 2 score comeback.
Things couldn’t have started much better for the Beavers. Oregon State got a sack of Gordon on the second play of the game, above, by Isaac Hodgins, got an interception by John McCartan, and shook off the fact that said snag left them on their own 1 yard line. The Beavers promptly marched literally the length of the field, getting a 33 yard run by Artavis Pierce, and the 54 yard touchdown run by Jefferson, below, to take a 7-0 lead.
Then they got another turnover, when Doug Taumoelau forced a fumble, and Isaac Garcia covered it.
However, that early sack was the only one of the night on Gordon, who had 73 drop backs in the game. On many occasions, Gordon, above, literally stood still for over 10 seconds before passing the ball. To the Oregon State defense’s credit, they managed to maintain coverage that long several times, forcing some of the most unlikely throwaways ever, to go along with the 5 takeaways.
To their detriment, they were almost totally unable to generate any semblance of a pass rush.
Compounding the problem, Hamilcar Rashed Jr. played with a cast on his left hand, after suffering a wrist injury in last week’s game. It left him ineffective rushing, which meant for the first time this season, he didn’t have a tackle for a loss, never mind a sack, this after being the nation leader in both. He wasn’t effective in coverage either, which contributed to a massive problem in the middle of the field.
Oregon State for the most part may as well have not had any interior linemen, inside linebackers, or safeties on the field on most plays, as they basically didn’t make any plays.
Part of that was the absence of adjustments by Defensive Coordinator Tim Tibesar, but a larger part was the same problem that’s been at the heart of the Oregon State defensive struggles for several seasons; a shortage of size, speed, strength, length, and talent.
For their own part, the Washington State defense was what they have been all season; also not up to Pac-12 standards, which is why what was an 11 win team a season ago is barely above .500 this season with an even more productive offense.
But while they couldn’t keep Champ Flemings contained, allowing him 110 yards, including a 46 yarder, above, early in the 2nd quarter that put the Beavers up 14-7, and 34 yard explosion receptions by both Isaiah Hodgins and Tyjon Lindsey, below, the Cougar defense did limit Isaiah Hodgins to just 5 catches total, for only 65 yards.
In what was an even bigger shootout than expected, that was a huge factor, even though a couple of them, including the one below, were highlight-type catches of next-level passes from Luton.
So too was Washington State’s 3rd quarter shutout of Oregon State, during which the Cougars went from down 24-21 at the break to an 11 point lead.
But then, Oregon State was complacent in getting the better of themselves in those matters as well. For all the aggressive play calling, which included a perfectly executed onside kick by Jordan Choukair midway in the 4th quarter, after the Beavers had pulled within 3 points on Jefferson’s second rushing touchdown, as well as the not so well executed 4th down gamble, it was astonishingly over-conservative play calling in the 3rd quarter, and again on the drive that necessitated the unlikely to succeed 4th down gamble, that derailed an Oregon State offense that the Cougars couldn’t stop in key situations.
And more than negated the benefits of the on-side kick, and the brilliant wheel-route call, lightly used this season, that resulted in Jefferson’s 39 yard touchdown that followed.
All but forgotten is the Omar Speights interception 1 play later that set up another Jefferson touchdown that put the Beavers 2 touchdowns ahead with only 4:17 to go.
As a result, Oregon State is 5-6, and now 4-4 in conference, and must beat Oregon in the Civil War to extend their season. The Ducks, who fell to 9-2, and 7-1 in the Pac-12, and out of the CFB playoff picture, might be upset with themselves, and the world, but also may not be all that motivated, as the outcome of the game will have zero effect on the bowl season. Oregon, having already clinched the Pac-12 North, will play for the Conference Championship, and if they win that game, go to the Rose Bowl, even if they effectively forfeit the Civil War, playing only walk-ons and their scout team. Not that that’s likely.
Washington State improved to 6-5, and 3-5 in conference, and can take any approach they want to the Apple Cup, against a Washington team that dropped their game at Colorado.
Coach Smith has produced bounce back wins after bad losses 4 times this season. It will take a 5th one to ensure that was a season that has still exceeded all reasonable expectations ends with anything resembling a positive note anywhere near the end of it.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)