THE RAMBLIN' MAN: Xavier Cooper
EUGENE -- Connor Halliday limped into the post-game interview area looking more like an 89-year-old man than a college quarterback who had just thrown 89 passes. “My shoulder’s pretty messed up,” Halliday said. “My ankle’s pretty missed up. My hip’s pretty messed up.
“So,” he concluded, “it’s kind of a perfect time for a bye week.”
If anyone deserves a week off, it would be Halliday. The redshirt junior from Spokane set or tied a bushel of records Saturday night in a 62-38 shootout at Oregon.
The 89 pass attempts is an NCAA Bowl Subdivision, school and Autzen Stadium record. Halliday’s 58 completions tied the FBS record and topped previous WSU and Autzen marks. His 557 passing yards erased school and stadium records.
“That’s pretty cool to be able to do that. Bottom line, if we find a way to not turn the ball over and win this game, it kind of would have been the whole story to our season," Halliday said.
Yeah, kind of. Since the Cougars were 39-point underdogs against the second-ranked Ducks, a WSU victory would have qualified as one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
Halliday threw four touchdown passes (one off his season and career high), but he tied his career high of four interceptions, set in his first college start two years ago against Utah. He broke Alex Brink’s 2005 school record of 531 yards; topped the school-record 67 passes he threw at California two weeks ago; and erased the school record of 42 completions that Jeff Tuel set last year at Stanford.
“That’s awesome for him,” WSU safety Deone Bucannon said. “It’s unfortunate he had to do it in a loss.”
Halliday said he knew early in the week he would be throwing early and often against the Ducks. Oregon’s defensive backs ran so much, they almost lettered in cross country.
“I don’t even see that many passes in a video game,” cracked Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who ran back a deflected pass in the fourth quarter for a touchdown. “It was crazy.”
“No one ever thinks 89 is going to be the number,” Halliday said. “Oregon is so athletic up front (on the defensive line), and so athletic at the linebacker positions, they don’t really give us too many run looks, and running the ball isn’t what we do best offensively.”
Counting four quarterback sacks, the Cougars ran the ball just 12 times for 2 yards.
“I’m completely confident in our quarterback and what the coaches call,” Bucannon said.
“I know I’m our best option to win games,” Halliday said.
“He’s a great leader,” Bucannon said. “He’s a great player.”
Defense suffers: WSU finished with 559 total yards. That’s just 11 short of the season high set at California, but the Ducks – one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country – set season highs against WSU for points, rushing yards (383) and total yards (719).
“As a defense, we just made too many mistakes,” Bucannon said. “We gave them too many opportunities, and we didn’t play as physical as we should have.”
The Cougars fell behind 27-7 early in the second quarter, but trailed only 34-24 when Andrew Furney kicked a 49-yard field as time expired at the end of the half. The Ducks took control of the game when they scored on their first two possessions in the third quarter.
“We just gave up some big plays (in the second half),” defensive tackle Xavier Cooper said. “We just had some mental lapses.”
Cooper said it is difficult to prepare for Oregon’s rapid-fire play-calling.
“You never (can fully) prepare for Oregon’s tempo, but it wasn’t a surprise to us,” Cooper said.
“You can’t simulate that in practice,” Bucannon noted. “The scout team can’t simulate Oregon’s speed.”
The 4-4 Cougars, who ranked among the national leaders in defense when they started 3-1, have yielded at least 560 yards in four straight games. Worth noting is the fact that the four teams that have defeated WSU own a combined record of 25-3
Hang tough: Oregon scored 28 unanswered points to open the second half, but Halliday threw a pair of touchdown passes in the final 3 1-2 minutes. The Cougars showed far more fight in the fourth quarter than they did the previous week in a 52-24 loss to Oregon State.
“We didn’t quit,” Halliday said. “We kept playing.”
“I think we did a good job of just moving on to the next play,” Cooper said.
“The players, we got together and we really put a focus on that (dealing with adversity) this week,” offensive tackle Gunnar Eklund said. “On how we’re not last year’s team, or years in the past teams, and how it affected us.
“We’re down by a touchdown against Oregon State, and the mood seemed to get negative. But we really worked on that this week, tried to stay positive. I think we did a pretty good job.”
WSU coach Mike Leach said Halliday “kept battling” along with his teammates.
“We did a lot of good things,” Leach said. “I thought we played real hard. We certainly weren’t error-free. We gave up some big plays offensively and defensively.”
Ducks praised: The Ducks improved to 7-0, and their 4-0 Pac-12 Conference record keeps them in a tie for first place with Oregon State.
“Oregon’s a great team,” Bucannon said.
“They never hesitate,” Eklund said. “They play fast every play, and that’s one thing we can learn from them.”
Leach added, “If they’re not the best team (in the country), they’re in the top five.”
First touchdown: When the 6-foot-4, 303-pound Cooper rumbled 29 yards for a touchdown on a recovered fumble in the second quarter, he got pretty excited. After all, the redshirt sophomore from Tacoma says it’s the first touchdown he’s ever scored in a game in his entire life.
“I maybe caught a touchdown pass in eighth grade in practice,” Cooper said with a grin. “I was a blocking tight end.”