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Barner, Ducks pull away in second half vs. Cougars

by: JESSE BEALS - Oregon's Brian Jackson knocks the ball away from Washington State's Gabe Marks as the Ducks beat the Cougars 51-26 Saturday in Seattle.SEATTLE — It's yin and yang at Oregon through five games, as evidenced by the 51-26 win against Washington State on Saturday when the defense made key plays, and the Ducks' offense put the game away at CenturyLink Field.

Challenged in the first half against the Cougars' passing game, and showing offensive vulnerabilities again, the Ducks registered three consecutive sacks to end the drive on what could have been go-ahead points by the home team in the NFL stadium.

Then, starting the second half, the UO offense marched 76 yards on 18 plays in 6:14, scoring on De'Anthony Thomas' 4-yard run to get itself back into the flow. A few plays into WSU's ensuing possession, quarterback Connor Halliday gift-wrapped an interception, under-throwing his receiver and delivering the ball into Avery Patterson's hands, and the UO free safety ran 34 yards for the score and 37-19 UO lead.

The game's result had been decided, and Oregon, for all of its offensive inconsistencies and bend-don't-break play on defense, moved to 5-0 and 2-0 in Pac-12 play. The Ducks play Washington (3-1, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6 at Autzen Stadium.

Kenjon Barner, bottled up somewhat against Arizona and even through two quarters against the Cougars (2-3, 0-2), rushed for an 80-yard score in the second half and finished with four scores, 195 yards rushing on 20 carries and another 37 yards on three receptions.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota, despite throwing two interceptions (one when freshman tight end Pharaoh Brown fell down), went 21 of 32 for 169 yards, a TD pass and a TD run.

But the real eye-popping numbers came when Oregon played defense and WSU played pass the ball around. The Ducks held the Cougars to a net rushing total of minus-8 yards, Halliday finished 33 of 60 for 348 yards, the relentlessly pass-rushing Ducks sacked him seven times and Patterson added the unit's third pick-six in two Pac-12 games. Between Halliday and Jeff Tuel, the Cougars threw for 410 yards and two scores, and receiver Marquess Wilson caught 12 balls for 182 yards and a touchdown to lead the team's bevy of receivers.

All the Ducks had to do was rush the quarterback, play solidly in coverage and make plays. Coach Mike Leach, of Texas Tech fame, sells out to throw the ball even in obvious running situations, which automatically makes his team one-dimensional.

The Ducks were up to the task of stopping the passing game of the Cougs, who had dropped a home game last weekend to Pac-12 cellar-dweller Colorado and drawn the wrath of Leach for uninspired play. But, clearly, the Cougars also made their share of plays.

"All the praises to them," defensive end Dion Jordan said, of the Cougars, who stayed competitive in the first half despite falling behind 20-3.

"We really looked forward to the challenge coming into the game," Patterson said. "It was a bunch of opportunities for us to make plays, and we took advantage of them."

A 22-yard Barner TD run, a 13-yard Mariota scramble for a score and Barner's 30-yard TD reception from his quarterback led to UO's 20-3 lead. Then things turned interesting. A 92-yard kickoff return by Teondray Caldwell set up Carl Winston's 2-yard TD run narrowed the deficit to 20-9. After Brown fell down and Mariota threw an interception, the Cougars had first-and-goal again — for the second time — but had to settle for Andrew Furney's second field goal. Score: 20-12.

Rob Beard put Oregon ahead 23-12, but Wilson caught a 29-yard pass. He was ruled out of bounds but the call was changed to a reception on review. Halliday hit Gabe Marks for 17 yards and then Brett Bartolone for a 26-yard TD, making the score 23-19.

After a stop, WSU moved the ball to the UO 17, only to be stuffed on consecutive sacks by Jordan, Michael Clay and Wade Keliikipi. The Cougs had been pushed out of touchdown and field-goal range. They punted.

Said Jordan: "We turned it up, because we know that's all they were going to do was throw the ball. We had to get after the quarterback, or he would sit back there and find guys."

"It was big for us," coach Chip Kelly said. "We needed our defense to do something. For us, offensively, we had to come out in the second half and put together a drive."

Jordan felt WSU "gave us their best shot." The UO offense took the steam out of the Cougars with their long drive — "we just needed to set the tone, you want momentum on your side and sometimes a long drive like that will get things going for you," Barner said — followed by Patterson's deflating pick-six.

"I guess it was a bad throw," Patterson said. "Threw it right to me. I would have been upset if I hadn't intercepted it."

Barner and the offense took care of the rest, as he ran for a 10-yard score and then his 80-yard TD jaunt.

"Stayed in bounds. My guys did a great job of blocking. I used somebody's jersey to sling-shot myself over," Barner said, of the long run. "I just made the proper reads."

The Ducks finished with 469 yards offense, including 300 on the ground, but it's pretty clear that the unit hasn't been consistently productive or explosive as in the past three seasons. The sophomore Mariota leads a young offense, and the Ducks continue to be a work-in-progress with the ball.

"We didn't execute as well as we needed to, and we knew that," said Barner, of the first half, after which coaches let players know about their spotty play in the locker room. "We just have to get back to Oregon football: fast, hard and finishing."

In the meantime, the defense has been picking up the offense, and the offense has been making plays at key times. It amounts to 5-0 with the tougher Pac-12 games coming up. Can the Ducks continue to eliminate mistakes and play more consistently?

Arizona and Washington State have done a good job of containing Thomas. The Wildcats held him under 100 all-purpose yards, and he carried six times for 26 yards and caught six balls for 28 yards. With returns, he totaled 126 all-purpose yards. He still acts as a pretty good decoy, despite the containment.

What have teams done to contain the Heisman Trophy candidate?

"I'm not even sure. It doesn't matter at all," said Thomas, at least appearing flummoxed. "I'm just out there having fun, doing whatever I can to contribute to my team."

NOTES: Injured receiver Josh Huff played, catching one pass for 11 yards. ... Announced attendance was 60,929, with an overwhelming WSU fan presence and only scattered UO fans. So much for the home-crowd feel some people in the UO athletic department had hoped for. ... "It was a fun atmosphere," Mariota said, of UO's first road game. "We got some boos. That's a little motivation." ... The Ducks had six penalties, including more pass interferences. ... The Ducks had better ball security — no fumbles — but Mariota threw two picks. ... Said Leach: "We battled away. Some of our field goals should have been touchdowns. We gave them two relatively easy touchdowns early. I think if we played with more control, we wouldn't have. We played pretty courageously throughout the rest of it."

SCORE BY QUARTERS

OREGON-20-3-21-7-51

WSU-9-10-0-7-26

OREGON: 1st, 13:08: Kenjon Barner 22 run (pass failed)

WSU: 1st, 7:10, Andrew Furney 18 FG

OREGON: 1st, 4:06, Marcus Mariota 13 run (Rob Beard kick)

OREGON: 1st, 1:04, Barner 30 pass from Mariota (Beard kick)

WSU: 1st, 0:09, Carl Winston 2 run (kick failed)

WSU: 2nd, 12:50, Furney 20 FG

OREGON: 2nd, 11:40, Beard 34 FG

WSU: 2nd, 6:10, Brett Bartolone 26 pass from Connor Halliday (Furney kick)

OREGON: 3rd, 8:39, De'Anthony Thomas 4 run (Beard kick)

OREGON: 3rd, 7:20, Avery Patterson 34 interception return (Beard kick)

OREGON: 3rd, 4:27, Barner 10 run (Beard kick)

OREGON: 4th, 10:52, Barner 80 run (Beard kick)

WSU: 4th, 4:13, Marquess Wilson 25 pass from Jeff Tuel (Furney kick)