WSU hangs tough vs. Ducks, but miscues costly

DAN WAGNER BLOCKED

SPECIAL TEAMS miscues that added up to an 18-point swing, coupled with Marshall Lobbestael's off-target red-zone passing, ruined a strong defensive performance by Washington State on Saturday in a 43-28 loss against No. 7 Oregon at Autzen Stadium.

"We've got to play with great effort and intensity," Paul Wulff said in a postgame radio interview. "I think we do that as well as anyone."

The Cougars responded well coming off a disheartening loss last week, but made too many mistakes to win.

"We had myriad opportunities to get the ball in the end zone and keep the game closer," said WSU sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who had a game-high 126 yards on 11 receptions.

The Cougars (3-5 overall, 1-4 Pac-12) did a lot well. Their defense, which struggled mightily in last week's 44-21 loss against Oregon State, looked like a completely different unit, holding Oregon to 15 points at the half. In the end, they allowed four touchdowns against Football Bowl Subdivision's sixth-ranked offense Saturday.

That should have been enough to at least put WSU in position to win. But special teams, one of the Cougars' biggest strengths last season, was horrid against the Ducks (7-1, 5-0). There was a missed chip-shot field goal by sophomore Andrew Furney during the first half. And a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown and a 93-yard kickoff return by De'Anthony Thomas resulted in the 15 first-half points for Oregon.

The latter miscue was particularly difficult to stomach because it directly followed one of WSU's few successful possessions deep in Ducks' territory. A seven-play drive culminated with a 24-yard pass from senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael to classmate Jared Karstetter to cut Oregon's lead to 29-20 with 3:52 left in the third quarter.

It was one of the few times Lobbestael, who completed 28 of 49 passes for 337 yards, was successful inside the 25-yard line. He only had one touchdown pass compared with two interceptions.

Both Karstetter, who had 114 yards on seven receptions, and sophomore Marquess Wilson helped the Cougars outgain the Ducks 463 to 456 yards. They moved the ball exceedingly well against Oregon, which ranked 65th among FBS teams in total defense entering the game, but it was rendered meaningless when those yards did not translate into points.

"Statistics are for losers," WSU radio analyst and former coach Jim Walden said. "I would rather have 200 yards and a win."

Backup quarterback Bryan Bennett, who replaced Darron Thomas at halftime, threw 45- and 19-yard touchdowns to Thomas and Tuinei in the third quarter, respectively. Between those possessions, WSU was forced to settle for a 35-yard Furney field goal.

That final result was kept out of blow-out range, but not close enough for Wulff.

"We self-inflicted ourselves with mistakes on offense and special teams," he said. "We're beyond the whole more victory thing. We want to win games."

THE COUGARS' EFFORTS to do that were hindered from the opening possession of the game. After a three-and-out, senior Dan Wagner's punt was blocked by Avery Patterson and returned by Boseko Lokombo for a 25-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion gave Oregon an 8-0 lead.

"That's the frustrating part," Wulff said. "We've been good on special teams, but that wasn't good."

That would have been enough to overcome with better offensive execution, though. WSU drove down to at least the Ducks' 23-yard line -- and twice in the red zone -- four times during the first half. But two Lobbestael interceptions and a missed 25-yard field goal by Furney resulted in three points on those possessions. Those came on a 40-yard Furney field goal.

Before reaching the red zone, WSU's offense mostly played quite well in the first half. WSU held the ball for 22 minutes, ran 49 plays and produced 241 yards of total offense.

A fresh defense took advantage. Oregon's only offensive score came when Thomas eluded several defenders and found Lavasier Tuinea for a 55-yard touchdown on third down.

"I know those defensive guys are just sick," Walden said. "I thought we had him for a sack and he got it for a touchdown."

But the defense responded with its second fourth-down stop on the Ducks' ensuing possession. Thomas' pass was tipped and intercepted by sophomore Damante Horton, who returned it 76 yards for a touchdown to cut the Cougars' deficit to 15-10 with 1:27 left in the first half.

"I thought our defense was really good," Wulff said. "We were running to the ball and hitting them."

That will need to continue if WSU hopes to win next week at California. Wilson said the performance against the Ducks shows the Cougars are ready for the challenge.

"We're mentally tough," he said. "We showed that we could stay close with a team that played for the national championship last year."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: De'Anthony Thomas' 93-yard touchdown return late in the third quarter extended the Ducks' lead to 36-20.

CATCH OF THE GAME: Senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter held onto a 24-yard third-quarter touchdown pass from Marshall Lobbestael.

STAT OF THE GAME: Two special-teams miscues resulted in 15 points for Oregon, which also was the Ducks' margin of victory.

LEADING TACKLERS: Senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis had seven stops, while junior safety Tyree Toomer added six.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: Oregon averaged 6 yards per carry, but much of that came on long runs by Kenjon Barner, who had 107 yards on 11 carries. With the exception of those, WSU contained the run well.

NEXT GAME: WSU plays at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against California at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The game will be televised on Comcast SportsNet California.

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