No. 2 Ducks remain perfect, tame Cougars 51-26
SEATTLE (AP) Avery Patterson didn't believe the halftime talk from Oregon's coaches was suitable to print.
Whatever was said, the second-ranked Ducks certainly woke up.
De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner sandwiched touchdown runs around Patterson's 34-yard interception return for a score, and No. 2 Oregon used a third-quarter scoring blitz to shake Washington State for a 51-26 win on Saturday night.
Playing for the first time outside the Eugene city limits, the Ducks (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) looked shaky at times in the first half and led just 23-19 at the break, but put together a nearly flawless third quarter to run away from the Cougars.
"Just our mindset. We came out and we didn't execute as well as we wanted in the first half and we knew that," Barner said.
Thomas capped an 18-play drive to start the half with a 4-yard TD, then Patterson stepped in front of Connor Halliday's pass for Oregon's third interception return for a TD in two games. After Washington State (2-3, 0-2) went three-and-out, Barner scored on a 10-yard run to cap the 21-point spurt in just over 4 minutes.
Barner finished with four total touchdowns, including scoring runs of 22 yards in the first quarter and an 80-yarder in the fourth to go along with a 30-yard touchdown reception in the first half. His 195 yards rushing was the second-best rushing game of his career behind the 201 yards he had against Fresno State earlier this season.
The Ducks started the second-half with their longest scoring drive by plays of the season, a methodical 18-play march that ate up more than 6 minutes. They ran nine times and threw nine times on the drive and only three times faced third down. The last came from the Cougars 4 when Barner went in motion and the middle opened for quarterback Marcus Mariota to hand off to Thomas, who plowed in for his fifth rushing TD of the season.
"You just got to set the tone," Barner said. "It's a game of runs, you want the momentum on your side and sometimes a long drive like that will get things going for you."
But the catalyst for Oregon's third-quarter surge might have been set at the end of the first half.
Washington State was driving with a chance to potentially take the lead at the break. The Cougars reached the Oregon 17 before Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Wade Keliikipi recorded consecutive sacks that knocked the Cougars back 38 yards and forced a punt.
"As a front for the defense we needed to get after the quarterback to help out those guys in the back end," Jordan said. "That's what we did and guys made big plays. ... We knew their opportunity was coming soon so we just had to take advantage of the situations."
With the defense setting the tone with the surge of sacks, it was time for them to add another big scoring play. Before Washington State got a chance to answer Thomas' TD, Patterson was stepping in front of a pass intended for Gabe Marks and racing untouched the other direction for a score. Patterson joined Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill with returning interceptions for touchdowns this season.
"It was definitely a momentum shift and we took it and ran with it," Patterson said.
After another three-and-out by the Cougars and a short punt, Oregon needed just seven plays for Barner to find the end zone for the third time and a 44-19 lead.
Barner put a cap on his night and an explosive second half when he escaped a pileup near the Oregon sideline and skirted free to run 80 yards early in the fourth quarter. His four total TDs is second behind a five-touchdown performance in 2010 against New Mexico.
"It felt like the end zone was running away from me," Barner said about the second-longest TD run of his career.
Mariota finished 21 of 32 passing for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the first road start of his career. He also had a 13-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Thomas had just six touches in the first half for a total of 33 yards and no play longer than 15. He got four touches on the first drive of the second half alone including the capping TD run. He also got his first kickoff returns of the season after most teams had refused to kick toward the speedy sophomore, but his longest return was 19 yards.
Washington State continued its series of playing once a year at the home of the Seattle Seahawks and for the foreseeable future it will be either Oregon or Oregon State as the foe. While the crowd of 60,929 was mostly crimson, there was plenty of green and highlighter yellow that made the trip north to see the Ducks first road game of the season.
Connor Halliday threw for 348 yards and Marquess Wilson had 12 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown to become Washington State's all-time leader in yards receiving. But the Cougars had no ground game finishing with (minus)-8 net yards rushing. Halliday was sacked seven times.
"I thought that we competed in this game better from start to finish than we've competed in any other game this year and we need to learn from this game and grow from it, but there are a lot of positives in this game," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "The results aren't what I would like, but I thought the personal effort as far as individual players I thought was the best work we've done during the season."