The Ducks arrived on the Palouse with Pac-12 championship aspirations and left sitting in fourth place in the North Division.
Oregon dropped from No. 12 to No. 19 in this week’s Associated Press college football poll after Saturday night’s uneven 34-20 loss to Washington State at Martin Stadium.
The Cougars (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) are now the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at No. 14, one spot above Apple Cup rival Washington. The Huskies (6-2, 4-1) rebounded from their overtime loss at Autzen Stadium with a win over Colorado.
No. 24 Stanford, the defending North champion, is also still in the hunt with a 3-1 conference record.
“The conference, the way it is, the way it’s structured, the competitive nature of it, there’s going to be opportunity,” coach Mario Cristobal said after Oregon’s fourth consecutive loss to Washington State. “But the most important thing is you’ve got to be a grown man about it, and understand how hard it is against an opponent like this on the road to start the way we did and expect to have success.”
The Ducks (5-2, 2-2) trailed 27-0 at the intermission before scoring 20 unanswered points.
But the offense settled for two field goals in the second half, and the defense could not get one last stop to give quarterback Justin Herbert the ball back in a one-possession game.
“I thought the defense did a great job in the second half,” Herbert said after completing 25 of 44 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns (one rushing). “It was tough putting them in that position in the first half, but I thought we showed a lot of fight.”
Oregon’s run game sputtered early and was stuffed in the red zone during the comeback bid.
CJ Verdell, the hero in the 30-27 upset of Washington, was held to 55 net yards on only 12 carries. Cristobal said the redshirt freshman was “gassed” and “banged up” in the second half, which is why true freshman Travis Dye was given three straight carries inside the 10-yard line in the third quarter with a chance to cut the deficit to 27-14.
Dye was stopped for no gain, a 1-yard loss and a 3-yard loss before an Adam Stack field goal made the score 27-10.
“I’m sorry,” Dye tweeted. “Never again.”
Oregon put together a methodical 16-play, 74-yard drive in the fourth quarter, but Herbert was hurried on an incompletion to Dillon Mitchell on second-and-4 at the Washington State 6-yard line and was unable to connect with tight end Jacob Breeland on third down.
Stack’s 23-yard field goal got the Ducks within 27-20. The Cougars answered with an eight-play, 75-yard drive punctuated with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Gardner Minshew to Dezmon Patmon to slam the door.
“We’ve just got to come out like that in the first half and who knows what the score would be,” linebacker Kaulana Apelu said after leading Oregon with a career-high 14 tackles. “It doesn’t matter now. We’ve just got to move on to the next — Arizona.”
After splitting the four consecutive games against ranked opponents, the Ducks will face struggling Arizona next Saturday in Tucson (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
The Wildcats (3-5, 2-3) are coming off a 31-30 loss at UCLA, a game starting quarterback Khalil Tate sat out due to injury.
“We’ve got to play the entire game like we did the second half, and I think things will be what we want them to be,” Cristobal said. “But we have to create that, we have to make that happen. We did not do that (against Washington State). Credit them as well. I think that’s important. Respect the game, respect the opponent.”