Keeping in mind the madness that had taken place earlier in the week with a controversial Monday Night Football game in the NFL and Washington upsetting No. 8 ranked Stanford on Thursday night, it seemed the Saturday could’ve followed a similar script.
After jumping out to a 20-9 in the first quarter behind running back Kenjon Barner’s speed and quarterback Marcus Mariota’s sharp passing, Oregon looked poised to roll over another conference opponent. But a Mariota interception at the end of the first quarter seemingly changed momentum in favor of the Cougars.
The Ducks offense turned sluggish and Mariota started to struggle, managing only 14 passing yards in the second quarter. The running game was stopped too, as the Cougars defensive line began penetrating and denying Barner and sophomore De’Anthony Thomas.
“We had drives where big things could’ve happened,” said Barner. “We just didn’t finish.”
The Cougars narrowed the deficit to four on sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday’s 26 yard touchdown pass to Brett Bartolone, then forced an Oregon punt that set them up on the Ducks 46 yard line with a chance to take the lead before halftime.
The Cougars reached the Ducks 17 yard line, but Oregon held stout behind three consecutive sacks by Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Wade Keliikipi that denied the Cougars further damage.
Still, Washington State held all of the momentum heading into the second half.
“We understood that they probably gave us their best shot,” Jordan said. “We focused on finishing the game.”
Then the Ducks did something that they don’t usually do: put together a lengthy drive. Taking nearly six-and-a-half minutes off the clock, Mariota led the team on an 18 play, 76-yard drive, culminating in a De’Anthony Thomas four-yard touchdown run to start the second half.
“We talked about how that first drive was going to set the tone,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “I thought everyone contributed and made plays.”
Four plays later, Oregon cornerback Avery Patterson picked off Halliday and ran 33 yards for the touchdown, the Ducks third pick-six in two games. Suddenly, the Ducks had the momentum and Washington State was back on its heels.
The Cougars began to wear down and commit mistakes, including a personal foul penalty on third down that gave Oregon a fresh set of downs, leading to a Barner 10-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Barner put the finishing touches on his 195 yard rushing performance with a game-sealing 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, his fourth touchdown of the game.
“Things are going to hit the fan,” Barner said with a laugh, “When they hit the fan it comes down to how you react.”
At the end of the day, it came off as a typical strong showing by Chip Kelly’s squad. The Ducks had seven sacks on the night, netted 300 rushing yards to the Cougars -8, and came away with another strong second half performance.
But what does the head coach know five games into the season?
“That were 5-0,” Kelly said. “I didn’t know that a month ago because we hadn’t played five games yet.”