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Stars return, but Bennett and others lead Ducks past WSU
Ducks make switch at QB at halftime, and turn on the offense; De'Anthony Thomas, Lavasier Tuinei score twice
EUGENE - Quarterback controversy at Oregon?
Bryan Bennett replaced starting QB Darron Thomas in the second half and led the Ducks on three touchdown drives, and De'Anthony Thomas scored on a 93-yard kickoff return as Oregon overcame a competitive Washington State 43-28 Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
Thomas (knee) and LaMichael James (elbow) each returned to action after missing games, but backups Bennett and Kenjon Barner, with De'Anthony Thomas, led the Ducks to victory.
The UO defense came up with some big plays, including two key interceptions, against a WSU team that continually moved into UO territory.
The Ducks (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) didn't play their best in winning their 21st consecutive game at Autzen Stadium.
Now they take to the road to play Washington at 7:30 p.m. Saturday - and then will travel to highly ranked Stanford the following week.
"I was able to spark it up, get us going and put more points on the board," the redshirt freshman Bennett said, of his relief job.
Thomas injured his knee Oct. 15 against Arizona State, and sat out last week's game at Colorado, although he suited up. Coach Chip Kelly said the switch was "performance/injury based."
"We thought Bryan gave us a better chance in the second half," Kelly said. "We just were off a little bit, offensively. A ball here, a ball there ...
"Darron handled it great," Kelly said, of the switch. "It's all about the team. ... I just felt like he wasn't setting his feet, and I worried if he could get out of the way. Lots of reason" for the switch.
Thomas, who went 8 of 13 for 153 yards, one TD and two picks in the first half, said he expects to be the starting quarterback going forward, and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich pretty much agreed. Kelly wouldn't reveal his plans.
"We got a win and it's like we're at a funeral right now," a perturbed Helfrich said, of the questions about the quarterback competition, as well as running backs.
Said Thomas, of being replaced: "They were looking out for me, for my best interest. I had to agree. ... I don't think I'm in competition at my position. I wanted (Bryan) to get into the game and do a good job.
Bennett went 4 of 7 for 88 yards, two scores and no picks in the second half, and added 25 yards on four carries.
"He didn't force the issue again, for the third straight game," Kelly said.
The Ducks led the Cougars 15-10 at halftime, thanks to a blocked punt and touchdown, a terrific Thomas touchdown pass, two interceptions at the Oregon 2-yard line and a missed WSU field goal.
While the Ducks were struggling on offense, as Thomas and James showed some rust, the Cougs were thriving with QB Marshall Lobbestael. Washington State scored on a 76-yard interception return by Damante Horton, who picked off Darron Thomas' pass.
"I really didn't have any concerns," Kelly said. "We were up five (points)," and stressed better tackling and offensive line blocking at halftime.
Said Barner: "We came out sluggish, and we got it together in the second half and started moving things."
Bennett replaced Thomas to start the second half and led the Ducks to a quick score. He hit De'Anthony Thomas on a swing pass, and Thomas ran for a 45-yard score, as UO pushed its lead to 22-10.
But the Cougs kept pushing, too.
Carl Winston ran for 18 yards, and Lobbestael threw 34 yards to Jared Karstetter to the UO 14. The Ducks stiffened, and Andrew Furney's 35-yard field goal made it 22-13.
Bennett continued to excel. He ran a nifty 12 yards for a first down to the WSU 40. The Ducks picked up another first down, and then Bennett scampered 11 yards to the WSU 19. Back to pass, Bennett found an open Lavasier Tuinei, and the 19-yard TD hookup put the Ducks ahead 29-13. It was Tuinei's second touchdown of the game.
The Cougars (3-5, 1-4), who had lost badly to Oregon State the previous week, wouldn't quit.
Lobbestael, playing for injured Jeff Tuel, performed well all day. Winston ran 16 yards, and then Lobbestael found an open Karstetter for a 24-yard score. The Cougs opted for the extra point rather than try for a two-point conversion that would have cut their deficit to eight points.
The Ducks extended their lead immediately to 36-20, as De'Anthony Thomas set the UO true freshman record with his 11th touchdown, sprinting 93 yards on the kickoff return to paydirt for his second touchdown. Derek Loville held the previous UO true freshman record with 10 TDs in 1986.
After a UO defensive stop, Barner topped 100 yards and Oregon increased its lead to 43-20, as he ran 28 yards for the touchdown with 12 minutes left.
The Cougars drove 85 yards in 13 plays for their final score, which came on a 9-yard run by Rickey Galvin.
The Cougars actually outgained the Ducks, 462 to 454, and had 40:26 possession time to UO's 19:34. WSU ran 87 plays to Oregon's 56.
"We understand that people are going to try to keep the ball away from us," Kelly said. "I thought our defense did a good job making them work the field."
Barner had 107 yards on 11 carries, James 53 yards on 13 carries (including six carries for 42 yards in the second half). It was a get-back-on-the-field sort of game for James, who suffered his injury against Cal on Oct. 6. "He started getting into a rhythm in the second half," Kelly said. Barner had a third consecutive 100-yard game, and "he persevered through the game," Kelly added.
Said James, who played with a right elbow brace: "I was really out of sync at the beginning of the game. I wish I could have played more, get more reps. It's not like riding a bike. It's a little difficult. .... But, feels good. I didn't really hurt at all, didn't have any problems holding the ball."
De'Anthony Thomas had four carries for 26 yards, two catches for 54 catches and, with 182 return yards, 262 all-purpose yardage.
Lobbestael went 28 of 48 for 337 yards, one score and two picks. He was sacked three times. Marquess Wilson led a good receiving corps with 11 catches for 126 yards. The Cougars rushed for 125 yards as a team.
The Cougars had many opportunities to score in the first half, but they came away with only three offensive points (another seven came on Horton's interception return).
WSU trailed 15-10 at the break.
Washington State got to the UO 15, 37, 21 and 8 on separate, early drives without coming away with points. The Cougs had 49 plays to UO's 26 in the first half, 22:00 possession time to UO's 8:00, and 15 first downs to UO's seven.
Darron Thomas and James each struggled in their return from injuries. James had seven first-half carries for 11 yards.
Oregon started fast, though, getting a defensive stop and then scoring when Avery Patterson blocked Dan Wagner's punt. Boseko Lokombo recovered the ball and scored on a 25-yard return. Holder Jackson Rice then passed to kicker Alejandro Maldonado for a two-point conversion.
The Cougs, however, were able to move the ball against the Ducks the entire half. Lobbestael led WSU downfield, only to have Terrance Mitchell pick him off at the UO 2 and return the ball to the UO 38.
WSU's Deone Bucannon returned the favor, intercepting Darron Thomas on a dropped pass by Tuinei.
Not showing much dare, WSU punted on fourth-and-5 at the UO 37 on the next drive.
Darron Thomas looked decent in the first half, but James did not. He got nailed for a one-yard loss on fourth-and-2 on UO's next drive.
The Lobbestael-led Cougs marched downfield and scored on Andrew Furney's 40-yard field goal early in the second quarter
On fourth-and-3 at the UO 44, the Ducks punted. The Cougs moved the ball again, but Lobbestael threw wildly on two passes, and the second was picked off by Eddie Pleasant at the UO 2. He returned it 25 yards, and a WSU personal foul penalty put the Ducks at the UO 42.
WSU forced third down, but Darron Thomas pulled off a sensational, highlight-reel play - on a broken play. Scrambling under pressure to his right, he threw back across the field to his left, where a wide-open Tuinei hauled in the pass and stumbled into the end zone for a 55-yard score. The Ducks led 15-3, after the play that appeared to get the home team back on its game.
"I saw two guys (open), so I just gave one of them a shot," Thomas said.
But WSU wouldn't go away.
Isiah Barton returned the kickoff 48 yards, and the Cougs marched deep into UO teritory again. But Furney's 25-yard field goal went wide right.
Barner ran the Ducks into WSU territory, until, on fourth-and-7, a Darron Thomas pass bounced off Rahsaan Vaughn's hands, with Horton intercepting and returning the ball 76 yards for the touchdown.
Maldonado missed a 47-yard field goal at the end of the half.
WSU 0 10 10 8 -- 28
OREGON 8 7 21 7 -- 43
OREGON -- 1st, 13:22: Boseko Lokombo 25 blocked punt return (Alejandro Maldonado pass from Jackson Rice)
WSU -- 2nd, 14:06: Andrew Furney 40 FG
OREGON -- 2nd, 7:32: Lavasier Tuinei 55 pass from Darron Thomas (Maldonado kick)
WSU -- 2nd, 1:27: Damante Horton 76 interception return (Furney kick)
OREGON -- 3rd, 14:16: De'Anthony Thomas 45 pass from Bryan Bennett (Maldonado kick)
WSU -- 3rd, 11:59: Furney 35 FG
OREGON -- 3rd, 7:23: Tuinei 19 pass from Bennett (Maldonado kick)
WSU -- 3rd, 3:52: Jared Karstetter 24 pass from Marshall Lobbestael (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 3rd, 3:39: De'Anthony Thomas 93 kickoff return (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 4th, 12:07: Kenjon Barner 28 run (Maldonado kick)
WSU -- 4th, 1:50: Rickey Galvin 9 run (Jared Karstetter pass from Lobbestael)