By Rob Moseley
In the wake of Connor Halliday’s record-setting night Saturday, the reaction from Oregon defenders was mixed.
Senior safety Avery Patterson had a hard time stomaching Halliday’s FBS-record 89 pass attempts, his Pac-12 record 58 completions and his Autzen Stadium-record 557 passing yards.
“It’s a competitive thing,” said Patterson, the distaste written all over his face in the locker room after the game. “You don’t want to see them get that many yards, that many touchdowns. We could have played a lot better, tackled a lot better, and been closer on a lot of routes.”
Junior cornerback Terrance Mitchell was more magnanimous. Yes, Halliday had put up numbers. But that’s what you expect from a Mike Leach team, Mitchell said with a shrug.
And in the end, the Ducks got the last laugh, represented by the 62-38 final score.
“At the end of the day he got what he got, and we got what we got,” Mitchell said. “We got the ‘W,’ which is most important.”
Halliday came into the night with a passer rating of 124.91 for the season. He was actually a bit worse Saturday, finishing with a rating of 123.58 because so many of his completions were for short yardage --– not to mention the four of them that ended up in the arms of Oregon players.
The Cougars mounted a legitimate drive in the first quarter, of eight plays for 71 yards to score a touchdown. Their two touchdowns plus a field goal in the second quarter all were set up by UO fumbles, and WSU didn’t score again until late in the fourth quarter, when Oregon was emptying the bench on defense.
Had the game been closer, Patterson said, the Ducks might have employed more man coverage. Because Oregon led comfortably most of the night, they were content to sit back and keep everything in front of them. That meant a bunch of small gains for Halliday, but nothing game-changing.
Which was small consolation for Patterson.
“We’ve got to do a better job of sticking on them at the beginning of routes, and make sure we’re in tight coverage,” Patterson said. “We could have played a lot better today.”
As can happen when the ball is in the air so often, Halliday made mistakes. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu intercepted a pass in the end zone in the second quarter, the second time WSU turned the ball over when a touchdown seemed eminent, after Vince Mayle’s fumble at the 1-yard line earlier in the period.
Patterson intercepted a pass after halftime, and linebacker Derrick Malone grabbed another later in the third quarter. A former high school safety, Malone had drifted back into coverage and then leaped to intercept the pass.
He was then crushed by a WSU running back, but held on.
“Should have stayed in-bounds, put a few more moves on,” Malone said after the game. “But it was fun.”
The capper for Oregon’s defense was Mitchell’s pick-six in the fourth quarter, which made it 62-24. He was officially credited with 49 yards on the return, but weaved around the field on his way to the end zone.
“Once I saw a couple of my teammates lay a couple good blocks, and I seen a little opening and a whole bunch of linemen I was like, ‘Man, I can’t let them tackle me,’” Mitchell said.
He didn’t. It was Oregon’s defense doing the tackling Saturday, overcoming a record-setting but ultimately futile passing performance by Washington State.