What Cougars thought was a strength, the offense, turns into a big weakness Saturday as Halliday and Tuel flop in Corvallis when WSU’s defense was respectable.
Washington State’s quarterbacks squandered the team’s best defensive performance of the season, losing 19-6 to No. 14 Oregon State (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12) Saturday in Corvallis.
In a game filled with sloppy play from both offenses, the Cougars (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) turned the ball over five times, four of which came on interceptions from Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel.
The Beavers, meanwhile, dominated time of possession (39:1 to 20:45) despite three turnovers before sealing the win late in the fourth quarter on a 12-play, 86-yard drive that spanned 5:06 and featured two crucial third down conversions. No stat indicated WSU’s meek offensive production more than the 227 yards produced by Mike Leach’s Air Raid Offense.
WSU failed to develop any semblance of offensive rhythm in the first half, as the offense went punt, interception, punt on its first three possessions. Defensive back Jordan Poyer’s pick on the second drive was the first of many poor decisions from Halliday.
Instead of falling behind big early, WSU’s 112th-ranked pass defense stiffened, picking off OSU quarterback Sean Mannion twice in the first half. The first interception came when WSU safety Deone Bucannon picked the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week at the goal line late in the first quarter.
Mike Leach sounded impressed with his embattled unit after the game.
“I thought defensively we played tough and we played precise,” the head coach said. “We let them off the hook a little bit there at the end . . . I thought it was our best defensive performance of the season.”
He didn’t portray the same message when asked about his offense.
“Series after series we play hard but we just play street ball where everybody is just trying to make too much happen,” he said. “We didn’t protect consistently and we didn’t read the field consistently. Some of that’s related.”
The score at halftime could have been more lopsided had WSU not picked off Mannion late in the second quarter.
After WSU surrendered possession on a fumble inside its own 40-yard-line, a few playes later linebacker Travis Long broke free up the middle. The pressure forced Mannion to wildly throw his pass into the hands of defensive tackle Ioane Gauta.
Long also sacked Mannion in the first quarter, pushing his season total to 7.5.
Halliday squashed the momentum on the ensuing series by throwing an interception into triple coverage. The pass prompted Leach to pull his sophomore signal caller in favor of Tuel for the last possession of the half.
Halliday’s afternoon ended for good when he reentered in the third quarter and threw another pass into the hands of Poyer. He finished the worst game of his career 9-for-20 for 80 yards and three interceptions while facing constant pressure from OSU’s three-man front.
Despite the offensive incompetence, the Cougars trailed just 6-3 at the half.
The Beavers responded on their first offensive series of the third quarter when Mannion orchestrated a 10-play, 5:43 drive that culminated with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton.
The Cougars didn’t retort until early in the fourth quarter when Andrew Furney kicked his second field goal of the afternoon, a 32-yard boot to cut their deficit to seven with just under 10 minutes to play in the game. The drive was aided by a questionable pass interference penalty and a blatant personal foul call against OSU’s secondary.
Nonetheless, WSU stalled in its second red zone appearance of the game. Leach’s attack has converted just eight of eighteen red zone appearances into touchdowns.
The Beavers capitalized their next possession with their game-sealing drive that OSU running back Tyler Anderson capped with a 1-yard touchdown run. Tuel and Co. moved the ball into OSU territory on their final drive, but Poyer sealed the victory by netting his third interception on an errant throw down the left sidelines. Tuel finished 11 of 17 for 126 yards in his first significant action since WSU beat Eastern 24-20 in early September.
Per company policy, Leach avoided naming next week’s starting quarterback after the game. Instead, he said it’s his players’ responsibility to improve during practice before WSU plays Cal in Pullman Saturday.
“There better be a lot happening on all sides of the ball,” he said. “Nobody’s improved to the point where we are satisfied with anything.”