PULLMAN, Wash. — Mike Leach has Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s number.
And Oregon’s, too.
The 12th-ranked Ducks, who arrived on the Palouse basking in the glow of the upset over preseason Pac-12 favorite Washington, were ambushed in the first half and ran out of time in the fourth quarter during a 34-20 loss to No. 25 Washington State on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 33,152 at Martin Stadium.
Leach has now defeated counterparts Mark Helfrich (twice), Willie Taggart and Mario Cristobal during the Cougars’ (6-1, 3-1) four-game winning streak over the Ducks (5-2, 2-2).
“The atmosphere and stuff really got to us,” starting left guard Shane Lemieux, a Yakima, Wash., export, said of Oregon’s stumble out of the starting blocks. “I’ve got to give credit to the Wazzu student section. It was crazy.”
Fans showed up en masse for ESPN’s "College GameDay" show, which began in the dark at 6 a.m., and stormed the field after the sun set on the historic day and Oregon's comeback bid.
The Ducks dug a 27-0 hole in the first half, which came to a fitting end with Dillon Mitchell dropping a Hail Mary pass from Justin Herbert in the end zone with one second left.
Leach had quarterback Gardner Minshew take a knee, which was about the only negative play the Cougars had to that point.
“We just didn’t come out ready to play,” senior linebacker Kaulana Apelu said after leading the Ducks with 14 tackles. “The plan was there, we just didn’t tackle in the first half.”
Washington State outgained Oregon 295-39 in the first half, but it felt like the teams switched uniforms during the intermission.
The Ducks, who only had three first downs during a nightmarish first 30 minutes, moved the sticks on their first three snaps of the quarter.
Herbert completed a 14-yard pass to Brenden Schooler on third-and-15 and ran for an 8-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1.
Then Jim Leavitt’s defense, which looked more like Brady Hoke’s 2016 defense in the first half, forced a three-and-out.
Oregon settled for a 32-yard field goal by Adam Stack to cut the deficit to 27-10 after the Cougars were not fooled by a running play on third-and-goal a week after CJ Verdell’s walk-off touchdown scamper against the Huskies.
Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir’s second interception of the game led to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to Jaylon Redd to make the score 27-17 with 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“Definitely the second half I feel everybody came out like we were supposed to,” Lenoir said. “We came out thinking we were the best team on the field. Really the rhythm was coming, we started to call different plays and find gaps and open spaces in the defense. …
“We just weren’t able to finish, unfortunately.”
Herbert made a clutch 4-yard completion to Mitchell on fourth-and-2 at the Washington State 43 and had NFL scouts drooling on a perfect throw over the middle to Schooler for 28 yards.
But in the red zone, the junior quarterback was shaken up by a hard hit on second down and nearly had a tipped pass intercepted in the end zone on third down. The Ducks again settled for a Stack field goal, a 23-yard try, to cap the 16-play, 74-yard drive that made it a one-score game (27-20) with 6:38 remaining.
“You have two choices, let them keep smashing you or tighten your seatbelt and do what you’ve got to do,” Apelu said of the second-half surge. “I think we did a great job of that, kind of not giving up, but we just needed one more stop and we couldn’t get it.”
Wide receiver Travell Harris outwrestled safety Jevon Holland, who was in position to make an interception, for a 37-yard reception. The redshirt freshman also made an 11-yard catch on fourth-and-6 at the Oregon 34.
That set up Minshew’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Dezmon Patmon to give the Cougars a 14-point lead with 3:40 remaining.
“Last year it would have been 50 to zero,” Lemieux said. “We really rallied in the second half. Obviously if we would have played like we did in the second half in the first half it would be a different ballgame.
“Just our will to never give up is one of the positives you can take away.”
Oregon wasn’t prepared to execute basic fundamentals, like snapping the ball and tackling, during the first half.
Minshew threw touchdown passes of 16 and 6 yards, the Cougars had a 20-0 head start and a 256-1 advantage in total yards with 2:59 remaining in the second half.
Running back Max Borghi put a video game move on Troy Dye, who had been shaken up earlier in the second quarter, en route to a 15-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 27-0.
“Certainly it was uncharacteristic of us,” said Cristobal, who was subconsciously pounding his fist on the tape while calmly answering postgame questions. “And we had opportunities, we really did, but we did not come through on them.
“Obviously, no, not the kind of ball we’re used to playing.”