There were little gray windows for Washington State quarterbacks Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel to throw into.
Most of the time, those windows were too small to squeeze the ball through.
No. 14 Oregon State made those windows tiny with a combination of things and snared a defensive-minded 19-6 Pac-12 victory at Reser Stadium.
The Beavers (4-0, 3-0) eliminated WSU’s running game and held the Cougars (2-4, 0-3) to 207 passing yards. They also intercepted four passes, three by senior cornerback Jordan Poyer.
“They were jumping routes because they were playing a lot of man coverage,” Tuel said. “They were playing tight and that gives us small, small windows to throw into.”
Tuel had the more successful day under center, completing 11 of 17 for 126 yards. Poyer intercepted the senior once – returning it 50 yards and sealing the victory with 3:18 remaining. Poyer’s other picks came against Halliday, who also threw an interception to OSU safety Anthony Watkins.
Halliday was 9 of 20 for 81 yards. His third pick – Poyer’s second – ended his game in the third quarter.
“I thought he would settle down,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of the decision to bring the sophomore QB back in the game. “He’d practiced a lot. I thought he’d settled down – he’s going to be a great player – but he wasn’t settled down this game.”
WSU’s issues went beyond the errant throws of their QBs. This was a game dictated up front and that was a battle Oregon State won, convincingly, on defense.
“Oregon State’s defense was more physical than our offense,” Leach said. “We had too many guys getting slung around and when that happened, rather than rely on our technique, we turned to street ball.”
The Cougars defense disrupted OSU, too, but not to the same extent.
OSU consistently pressured both Halliday and Tuel. Scott Crichton sacked Tuel three times, twice in one series to destroy a promising third-quarter drive.
That kind of pressure affected the Cougars in many different ways.
“I thought both defenses really got both offenses out of their rhythm, and then Oregon State did a better job of that than we did,” Leach said. “And then it becomes a series of errors.
“Our quarterback goes back and on his first read, he can’t go beyond it because he doesn’t have time, or the receiver gets jammed up, and then I think our receivers need to be more physical. And then about the time he has the time to read the field, we’re not able to do that because he’s had people in his lap the last four or five times and he doesn’t trust it to go on. And then guys trying to make too much happen, and that leads to a series of errors and then a whole series of corrections throughout the game.”
For a team with 11 freshmen playing important roles, it became too much to deal with and the Cougars offense collapsed.
“Offensively we didn’t play the game we needed to,” receiver Gino Simone said. “The defense played great all day. It’s our job to put points on the board and have their backs and we didn’t do that.
“Oregon State did some really good things, but we left some things out there and didn’t do things good enough to win that game.”
In many ways, the Cougars sounded like the Beavers in 2011. Aware that they made some good plays, equally aware they weren’t consistent doing so, and lastly, physically whipped by more physical play.
And until they figure out how to make the little gray windows bigger, to give their quarterbacks more time, to win the fight up front, it’ll likely stay that way.