Three takeaways from a wild Oregon comeback win over Washington State
Game of the year.
With 6:34 to play in Pullman, Washington State held a 34-22 lead on Oregon and it looked like it was time to label the Cougars as full-blown contenders in the Pac-12.
Five minutes and 33 seconds later, Oregon was up 44-34.
The Ducks snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat. As clichéd as that might sound, there’s no other way to describe what we just witnessed. Oregon was dead. Then it came alive for the final 10% of the game and robbed Washington State of the win with two offensive touchdowns and a defensive pick-six. Quarterback Bo Nix had a career day, outdueling Washington State’s Cameron Ward — who had his own moments of brilliance but tossed a game-sealing interception with 1:01 to play that was returned for the Ducks’ final score.
Washington State tacked on a touchdown as time expired to make it a 44-41 game. (Good teams win, great teams cover.) The 15th-ranked Oregon Ducks moved to 3-1 with the win while Washington State drops to the same.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Bo Nix deserves our respect
What a gutsy comeback performance from Bo Nix.
Heading into the game, all the talk was about how Oregon needed to put Nix in good spots to protect him from himself. Don’t let Nix throw you out of the game. Don’t put the onus on him to go and win it. Everyone talked about Nix’s mistakes on the road. When he threw a 95-yard pick-six in the first half, Twitter fingers on the internet buried him.
But this is a changed man, folks.
The Auburn quarterback who ran around and forced plays and drove Tigers fans nuts has popped up sporadically for the Ducks, but Oregon is 3-1 because of Nix, not in spite of him.
After the interception, Nix was unfazed. In leading the Ducks back, he was clinical. He didn’t put the ball in danger, he didn’t force the issue, he just moved the offense up and down the field.
Nix finished the game 33-for-44 for a career-high 428 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, he had the interception, but he made the right play over and over and over again. He was 7-for-9 for 65 yards on the drive that pulled Oregon within five points with just under four minutes to play. Then he hit Troy Franklin for 50 yards on what would serve as the game-winner.
— Derek Peterson (@dr_petey) September 24, 2022
Oregon survived. Washington State is a tremendous team and Oregon beat it in Pullman. Nix straight-up made plays late in the game. The Ducks had four touchdown drives on six second-half possessions. (I’m not counting the one-play kneel-down that killed off the final second.) Oregon made necessary adjustments at halftime. Nix showed real composure.
A fistfight between the 20s
Oregon moved the ball up and down the field, putting up more than 600 yards of offense. But when it got inside the red zone, boy, was it an adventure. Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham was the most-tweeted-about man in the Pacific Northwest during the first half on Saturday; the Ducks had four first-half possessions journey inside the Washington State 10-yard-line. They came away with nine points.
It was a combination of two things.
On one side, there was Oregon, making things entirely too easy on Washington State with conservative play-calling almost designed to fail in the first half. When Bo Nix tossed an interception on an out route that was returned nearly the length of the field for a pick-six, you had to ask if the play-calling was trying to protect Nix deep in enemy territory. Whatever the reason, the Ducks were poor where they needed to execute.
Oregon scored a fourth-quarter touchdown from inside the 10, but it needed the big-boy package with an extra offensive lineman and a fullback on the field to convert. The heavy package converted again later in the fourth to keep the Ducks alive, which will no doubt be a story after the game, but it was more of a necessity against the Cougars of Wazzu whereas it was a flex a week ago against the Cougars of BYU. Oregon ran 12 plays inside the Cougar’s 10; they featured a false start, an interception, and a total of minus-8 yards lost. Something to keep an eye on going forward.
Of course, Dan Lanning could just tip the cap to the Washington State defense. Because that Cougars’ defensive front is a force, man. Daiyan Henley at linebacker, the edges in Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson, Washington State has some stars who are going to terrorize teams. And then there was Travion Brown, who was questionable to play in the game, having a really strong performance, showing up time and time again. The big No. 82 finished with seven tackles and a TFL, constantly around the football.
Cameron Ward, the magician
All day long it seemed like Oregon was unable to bring Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward to the ground. He scrambled around and kept plays alive in the first half. He had Oregon defenders on a string, almost toying with them at times.
On what looked like it could be the back-breaking drive where Washington State iced the game, Ward was a magician. Call it luck if you want, but his playmaking ability was on full display.
OH MY WARD 😱
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 24, 2022
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 24, 2022
And you saw all that razzle-dazzle take its toll on a proud defense, frustrating the Oregon defensive front that was chasing Ward around all day. A targeting call (bad, but still) on DJ Johnson moved the drive along. A hands-to-the-face penalty on Brandon Dorlus pushed the same drive further into Oregon territory. The Cougars paid it off with a little 1-yard pop pass to Robert Ferrel.
Ward was picked off by Oregon’s Mase Funa with just over a minute remaining, the ball returned 27 yards for a Duck touchdown that all but ended the game. That one will hurt Cougar fans for a long time. And Ward did finish with two interceptions, but don’t let it confuse you: Ward is going to provide some tremendous moments for Washington State throughout the season. He has the playmaking gene that makes him must-see TV.