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Ducks and Cougars: How Washington State Could've Pulled an Upset

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While hindsight is 20-20, let's use that hindsight to see how the Cougars could've gotten the most out of their offense in Martin Stadium. And GIFs are back!

Connor Halliday got the Cougars close, but couldn't get the Red Auerbach victory cigar against Oregon
Connor Halliday got the Cougars close, but couldn't get the Red Auerbach victory cigar against Oregon
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

In a surprising outcome Saturday night, Oregon had to dig down and pull out a win against a feisty Washington State squad that hadn't really shown that much up to this point. Washington State stayed in the game with their passing attack and their adamant protest of the running game in light of recent NFL scandals. If we take a look, there were missed opportunities that could have turned into points for the Cougars, which could have resulted in Oregon "Cougin" it for the first time in eight previous matchups. That didn't happen, which is why we watch the tape today. I decided to focus on Washington State's offense for this, because I think that Oregon is always going to get theirs offensively. Unless you are Stanford and have the ability to put pressure on Marcus Mariota consistently, there isn't going to be much stopping going on. Plus, being pass happy puts the Cougar defense out on the field more if they're inaccurate throwing the ball. That leads to more Oregon points, and Washington State has no choice but to keep gunning in order to keep up and have a chance of winning.

Let's start in the first quarter with a drive that ended in a missed 29 yard field goal. To beat Oregon, you have to be perfect on offense, especially in the redzone. The last set of downs began with a first and 10 at the 18. Oregon runs a lot of odd defensive fronts when trying to counter passing attacks like the Air Raid, and this one is no exception. They initially line up six guys about to rush, which Connor Halliday sees. He looks pre-snap to his hot route, who ESPN's cameraman leaves out of the shot at the bottom of the screen. Either this is an automatic key for the offense or Halliday doesn't trust his offensive line. I'm inclined to say the former due to Halliday being sacked once all game. Halliday's hot route, Isiah Meyers, runs a quick slant. The problem with this is the Oregon linebacker, Torrodney Prevot, drops to a hook to curl zone which puts him right in front of where the pass was supposed to go. If he makes the catch, that could go for six the other way. The Ducks drop into cover 3 zones, and had Halliday not checked to his hot route before the play, his outside receiver at the top of the screen was open on a skinny post that would have been a touchdown.


Let's skip to third down and four on this series. Oregon again comes out with a weird alignment, with two defenders off the right tackle, leaving a gap for the linebackers to fill if Washington State wasn't boycotting the run game. They only bring three rushers, with the outside rusher on the right dropping to a zone. Halliday notices the loose coverage at the top of the screen and decides pre-snap to attack this matchup. This is the right move here, with his receiver running a deep out and sealing off the cornerback from the ball. The only problem is the throw, which is too far outside for Vince Mayle to get to.


With a better throw, this would have been an easy first down, but there's more than that. Halliday can't rely on his first impressions at the line every time. Either of the crossing routes would've gotten a first down, along with the back going to the right out of the backfield. The patience to make these throws doesn't seem to be there. While part of this can be attributed to the design of the Air Raid, the other part comes from learning from mistakes, watching film, and developing the patience to go through your reads.

Last play I'm going to go with is during the final Washington State drive. Vince Mayle busted a 34 yard gain on a deep curl route to get the ball into Oregon territory. For some reason they decide that it's important to establish the run game with 4:32 to go and get easily stuffed for a loss of three. This brings up a second and thirteen. This down is especially important. While there is plenty of time to to make a pass, this is four down territory. You want to make 3rd and 4th down manageable. Again, Washington State makes the right call. Lining up with three wide to the right (but ESPN camera guys cut two of them out of the shot), Washington State runs what I call a "Flood" concept. They run the two outermost receivers on crossing routes, almost in a pick concept, so that the inside receiver can run a speed out under them and be wide open. The clear out works, but Halliday rushes the throw, and the ball is too far outside for a completion.


This is a common thread between these plays. Connor Halliday rushed throws when he didn't need to. Much of the time Oregon only rushed three, and Halliday could have used his time to go through his reads and make the right throws. He played an excellent game aside from this, but the offense can't be impatient in order to beat an Oregon. But Washington State showed that they can hang with the best, and that makes the conference that much stronger.