When No. 12 Oregon took the field prior to kickoff against No. 25 Washington State, the Ducks were in prime position to get back to the Pac-12 championship. Not only were they tied for first place in the North division, the Ducks had the easiest route to the championship if they could just keep winning.
Instead, Oregon (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) left Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington in a daze, unbelieving at what had just taken place over the 60 minutes of game time.
“Obviously a tough loss on the road, credit to them,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal after the Ducks’ 34-20 loss to Washington State. “They played a really good football game, almost a tale of two halves — certainly played a different brand of football in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.”
Cristobal wasn’t joking when he said it was a tale of two halves.
In the first, Oregon shouldn’t have bothered coming out of the locker room for the opening whistle.
The offense punted on their first four possessions, running a total of 18 plays for 50 yards in the half. Oregon’s trio of quarterback Justin Herbert, running back CJ Verdell and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell were completely nonexistent in the half, unable to get in any sort of rhythm.
The defense fared no better, looking like a colander with how many holes they had. After getting an interception on the opening drive, the Ducks have touchdowns on each of the Cougars next four possessions of the half. Multiple missed tackles and lack of execution ultimately doomed Oregon in the end.
“We started off slow… we can’t do that on the road against a great team like this,” linebacker Troy Dye said after the game. “That’s all it is… we started out slow and have to come out faster.”
The second half was different altogether.
Oregon found its rhythm on both sides of the ball. Herbert led the Ducks to 20 consecutive points right out of the gate, while the defense forced a Cougars punt-interception-punt on their first three possessions.
The Ducks had a chance to get the ball for the game-tying possession late in the fourth quarter, but two plays unfortunately didn’t go their way.
While the comeback ultimately fell short, it wasn’t for a lack of effort, something the Ducks were missing the past couple years.
“We haven’t really been down this year like that, especially in the first half,” guard Shane Lemieux said. “It reminded me of last year almost — I think last year, the team would’ve been down 50-0… we really rallied the second half.”
Lemieux is right.
Last year’s team played with very little heart, often giving up once the realization that they were overmatched came into play. Too often did Oregon roll over and die, showing no fight or leadership in attempting any sort of comeback.
That’s why even though this loss hurts, in no means is it demoralizing.
Oregon must now right the ship, beginning with next week’s matchup with Arizona. With the Pac-12 North crown all but out of the equation, the Ducks still have the opportunity to finish the season 10-2. They’ll be favored on four of their remaining five games and have a chance to build to something incredibly special in the future.
That’s a massive improvement from the combined 11-14 record over the previous two seasons, seasons in which Oregon’s rebuild looked as if it would take multiple years, not one. A lesson can be learned from the loss, but only with the proper mindset moving forward.
“The sun will rise tomorrow. You have two choices; you can get on your feet and get up or lay down in bed,” linebacker Kaulana Apelu said following the loss. “Knowing this team, knowing myself, we’ll get up get ready to go.”