PULLMAN, Wash. — The party had been raging for days by the time Oregon finally showed up, two hours too late to be anything but an accessory in Washington State’s perfect night.
People were calling this the biggest game in the history of Martin Stadium thanks to a long-awaited appearance from ESPN’s “College GameDay” and Oregon’s No. 12 ranking. Cougar fans celebrated by camping out in RVs, tents, truck beds and sleeping bags as they counted the hours ’til kickoff.
You’d better believe the Cougars were ready for this one. The Ducks straggled in late, shoes untied and shirts untucked, and tripped over the welcome mat.
After digging a 27-0 hole at halftime, Oregon stirred in the second half but fell 34-20 to the 25th-ranked Cougars. It was Oregon’s fourth straight loss to Washington State, equaling the Ducks’ longest losing streak in the 117-year history of the series.
Coming off the high of beating Washington, the Ducks played a first half that stunk so bad you could smell it from Seattle. They had three first downs, gained 39 yards and looked like they were seeing the Air Raid offense for the first time in their lives.
“I don’t think there was anything really spectacular other than routine, basic stuff,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said.
Between rage-texting the Pac-12 commissioner and chaperoning the biggest party the Palouse has ever seen, Leach still found time to prepare a game plan that left Oregon completely flummoxed. Maybe he dusted off the one from last year, or the year before that.
Sorry, folks, but you just can’t expect a plucky underdog like Oregon to hang with a powerhouse like Washington State, what with all this ESPN exposure and favorable officiating the Cougars have been getting.
What’s that? You’re suggesting that Washington State pummeling Oregon isn’t written into the Pac-12 TV contract? That one of these years, perhaps, the Ducks will figure out how to break the spell?
Maybe that’s true, but the Cougars seem to have Oregon figured out. In the other games, at least Oregon had an excuse.
Three years ago, it was Vernon Adams’ broken finger. The year after that, it was Brady Hoke’s defense. Last season, it was Justin Herbert’s busted collarbone.
This year, it was nothing but Oregon’s own ineptitude. The Ducks were flailing from their very first series, when they had a false start, two botched snaps — one mercifully negated by a penalty — and a delay of game.
“I’m sure it frazzled our guys a little bit,” coach Mario Cristobal said, noting that the Ducks had to adjust their snap count because of crowd noise after the second bad snap.
“Going into the game we felt really good about going with our regular cadence,” left guard Shane Lemieux said. “It was a lot louder than we expected.”
The Ducks shouldn’t have been surprised. The Cougars had been sharpening their fangs for this game all week. Oregon got rattled, and it took the Ducks all the way through halftime to recover.
“When you have a rough couple drives like that, they kind of piggyback on each other,” quarterback Justin Herbert said.
The Ducks want to have an identity as a tough running team. That identity was nowhere to be found Saturday night, as Oregon rushed for 58 yards on 24 attempts against a team not known for its dominant defense.
After teasing the idea that they could contend for the Pac-12 North, the Ducks showed pretty quickly that they have a ways to go. If any team has the inside track, it’s Washington State, which would take great delight in messing things up for the rest of the Pac-12.
Commissioner Larry Scott was in the press box at halftime to address some leaked text message exchanges with Leach, who took the commish to task for the Pac-12’s incompetent officiating.
“My obligation is to our members to uphold the highest level of integrity around our officiating, and especially targeting,” Scott said. “I’ve got tremendous confidence that our conference is considered a leader in both those areas.”
That would have been like Cristobal coming in the press box at halftime and talking about Oregon’s terrific first half. At some point, you’ve got to trust your eyes.
The scene after the game told the whole story. As Washington State fans poured onto the field to keep the party rolling, the Ducks high-tailed it into the tunnel and made their escape.
They showed up late, and in the end, they couldn’t leave fast enough.