It was a tale of two halves for No. 12 Oregon.
After a disappointing first half that saw the Ducks trailing 27-0 entering the break, they mounted a massive comeback led by quarterback Justin Herbert. But ultimately, Herbert and the defense came up just short as Oregon lost 34-20 to No. 25 Washington State.
“I really appreciate the grit our guys came out with and fought with throughout the entire game,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “Obviously, our comeback wasn't enough at the end of the game.
With the loss, the Ducks (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) now drop to fourth place in the Pac-12 North while the Cougars (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) stay in a tie for first place with No. 15 Washington and No. 24 Stanford.
Herbert finished the game 25-of-44 for 270 yards and one score. Running back CJ Verdell and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell both entered the game with three consecutive games of 100+ yards rushing and receiving, respectively, but were largely held in check. Verdell ended with 12 carries for 55 yards while Mitchell caught seven passes for 47 yards.
The Ducks never showed up until the second half when they scored the first 20 points after the halftime
Herbert got Oregon on the board when he finished a 7-play, 75-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the half. Herbert found tight end Jacob Breeland twice on the drive for catches of 27 and 20 yards to get the Ducks deep into Cougar territory before his touchdown run on 4th-and-1.
After a defensive stop, the Ducks had another long drive and were poised for another touchdown but settled for an Adam Stack 32-yard field goal. Facing 3rd-and-goal from the seven, Cristobal opted for a run with the intent of going for the touchdown on fourth down — but a three-yard loss on third down sent out the field goal unit.
“We were in four-down territory and on third down they were playing coverage and we felt it was a very favorable play where at worst we could get down within one or two yards and still go for it on fourth down and it didn't work out that way,” Cristobal said.
The defensive responded again on the next drive when Deommodore Lenoir picked off Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew, getting Herbert the ball at the Oregon’s 23-yard line.
The Ducks cut the deficit to 27-17 with Herbert’s 11-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jaylon Redd in the corner of the end zone. The drive was aided by a Cougar pass interference on third down when Herbert’s pass to wide receiver Dillon Mitchell was off target.
Oregon forced another Washington State punt to begin the fourth quarter before a 16-play, 74-yard drive ended with a 23-yard field goal by Stack to cut the deficit to one score.
After holding strong for much of the second half, Oregon’s defense finally broke down when a stop was needed most.
Minshew ended an 8-play drive when he found Dezmon Patmon for a 22-yard touchdown with 3:40 remaining to end Oregon’s comeback bid. The Ducks had the multiple chances to get off the field but couldn’t convert on either.
On the second play of the drive, Minshew lofted a ball downfield that safety Jevon Holland appeared to intercept, but wide receiver Travell Harris eventually ripped it from Holland’s arms for the 37-yard gain.
“The time just came and he (Minshew) threw it up and I made a play — at one point I felt like he had it and I snatched it from him (Holland),” Harris said. “I wanted it more... that's the main thing… I wanted it more."
Later in the drive, Washington State went for it on 4th-and-6 but Minshew found Harris for 11 yards on an out route, barely beating the coverage of Oregon safety Ugochukwu Amadi.
Minshew finished the game 39-of-51 for 323 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Seven different Cougars caught at least three passes while four of them were on the receiving end of Minshew’s touchdowns.
The first half was one the Ducks would like to forget about altogether.
The offense never got started, punting on their first four possessions before failing to convert on fourth down to end the half.
The defense was no better, getting shredded by Minshew and his weapons.
The Ducks looked like a physically tired team coming off an emotional win last week, missing multiple tackles and just showing a slow and poor effort all around.
Linebackers Kaulana Apelu and Troy Dye were bright spots, finishing with 14 and 12 tackles respectively, while Lenoir finished with two interceptions, including one in the red zone to stop the Cougars on the opening drive of the game.
Oregon now returns home for a week of practice before traveling to Arizona to face the Wildcats in a Pac-12-After-Dark special. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 27.