Oct. 11, 2007
By Jason Krump
After grinding out a win at Illinois and easily taking care of Boise State at Martin Stadium, the Cougars, now ranked 15th in both polls, returned to conference play with a trip to Oregon and the challenge of contending with the raucous Autzen Stadium crowd that comes with it.
While not quite a house of horrors that the L.A. Coliseum had been for the program; nonetheless, the Cougars had not enjoyed a win at Autzen in awhile. Unlike the Coliseum, whose fans are a distance from the field, the configuration of Autzen allowed the Oregon fans to be up close and personal with the players.
"It is the toughest place that I ever played at," recalled senior defensive back Duane Stewart, who played in front of hostile fans at stadiums in Nebraska, Tennessee, USC, and UCLA during his career at WSU.
"It was the toughest place because, not only is it just loud, but the fans are so close to you, and at that time they were really, really close; pretty much right behind the bench," Stewart described. "There are a lot of distractions going on over there.
"Plus the team wasn't too bad either," he continued. "We really had bad luck in the past. The last time we played there we lost pretty badly."
WSU had not won at Oregon since a 51-38 win in 1989, and many members of the 1997 team had played in or were witness to a 26-7 loss under the lights in the Cougars' last visit to Autzen in 1995.
"Autzen Stadium, I still think, is the toughest place to play in the Pac-10 because they are on top of you all the time," offensive tackle Jason McEndoo said.
"That is just a hard place to play," offensive tackle Ryan McShane said of Autzen. "You got to hold the guy's hand next to you because you can't hear yourself think."
In the days leading up to the game, the outlook was for an offensive shootout. Through four games, the Cougar offense was first in the Pac-10 and had averaged 39.5 points a game. The Oregon defense, on the other hand, was ranked last in the Pac-10 and had allowed 58 points to Stanford the previous week.
Prior to shutting out Boise State, the Cougars defense had allowed an average of nearly 26 points in its first three games while Oregon's offense, albeit in a losing effort, produced 49 points against the Cardinal.
"It was the toughest place because, not only is it just loud, but the fans are so close to you, and at that time they were really, really close; pretty much right behind the bench. There are a lot of distractions going on over there."
-Duane Stewart on playing at Autzen Stadium
But on closer inspection, the Cougar defense's performance was more than just an afterthought to its offensive counterparts. The defense ranked first in the Pac-10 in passing yardage and was stingy against the run as well, allowing 3.5 yards a carry. Subtract two long runs -- UCLA Skip Hick's 92-yard jaunt and Illinois Robert Holcombe's 48-yard burst -- and that average was down to less than 2.5.
And, when it counted, the Cougar defense made the big plays, as evidenced by the goal line stand against UCLA.
So in a game where the WSU offense was held to its lowest scoring output of the regular season, the defense had to come up with many big plays.
They did, and wasted no time in making them.
After WSU went three and out on its opening possession, the Ducks took the ball from their own 20 to the Cougars' 18 but came away empty-handed when Gary Holmes blocked Joshua Smith's 35-yard field goal attempt.
After another three and out, Oregon drove the ball to the Cougars' 36 but the Ducks were thwarted, once again by Holmes when he intercepted quarterback Jason Maas' pass.
Thus began a frustrating first half for Maas, who had been splitting time with Akili Smith at the position. Maas was coming off a five-touchdown effort against Stanford, but he would not repeat that performance against the Cougars.
The first quarter ended as it began, with a big play by the Cougar defense. This time it was Stewart who picked off a Maas pass at the Cougar 48-yard line near the end of the period.
The Cougars finally broke through on the scoreboard with a Michael Black 1-yard touchdown plunge at the 11:16 mark of the second quarter. Black's run capped a five-play 57-yard drive, which was highlighted by a 38-yard Ryan Leaf to Shawn McWashington connection that gave the Cougars the ball at the Oregon 3-yard line.
With less than six minutes remaining, Oregon once again put a drive together, but facing a fourth-and-23, Maas had his third pass of the first half intercepted, this one courtesy of Dee Moronkola, who outfought Oregon receiver Pat Johnson for the ball in the end zone.
After the defense thwarted Oregon's effort to score, the Cougar offense ran the two-minute drill to perfection, taking just over a minute to reach pay dirt once again.
Beginning their drive with 2:05 left, the Cougars needed only five plays, highlighted by a 25-yard Chris Jackson reception and a 38-yard Black run, to reach the end zone. This time, Black, who ran for 48 of his 114-yard game total in the first half, went in from six yards out to give WSU a 14-0 advantage with just 56 seconds remaining.
In the first half, Oregon outgained WSU by a 214-178 margin, but the Ducks' eight possessions in the half went (in order): blocked field goal, interception, punt, interception, punt, punt, interception, and the end of the half.
"Their big thing was screen plays, and they were very versatile with their formations," Stewart said of the Oregon offense. "The game plan was to stop the run and make them pass the ball. Our coaches set us up so perfectly for that game.
"When you look at scouting and game planning and things like that, we were probably the most prepared for that Oregon game than we ever had been," Stewart added. "We knew exactly what they were doing before they did it."
The Oregon offense finally produced points on its opening possession of the second half as Smith, who saw the majority of action at quarterback from the second quarter on, led the Ducks on a 13-play drive culminating in a 32-yard field goal.
As the WSU defense held the Ducks to just those three points in the quarter, the offense was able to extend its lead when Leaf hit Kevin McKenzie from 12 yards out to extend the Cougars' advantage to 21-3 with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
"Our defense held us in there. That crowd was harder to play in front of than USC or Illinois. Autzen Stadium was packed, and it was loud. But we played well. We stuck together through the good and the bad and made plays when we had to make them."
But the Oregon offense, led by Smith's passing and running, finally was able to get in gear. After the Ducks cut their deficit to 21-6 at the beginning of the final quarter the defense was able to make a play by intercepting Leaf, giving Oregon the ball at the Cougars' 43.
It looked as if the WSU defense would once again hold the Ducks at bay, but, facing a fourth and 22, Smith connected with Tony Hartley from 31 yards out to pull within 21-13 with 8:44 left.
Oregon had cut its deficit to a one possession game, and there was plenty of time left.
Despite the hostile environment, the WSU offense stepped up when it needed to. The Cougars put together a 12-play 66-yard drive ending on a Rian Lindell 28-yard field goal to extend the lead to 24-13. The drive was keyed by a Leaf connection to Jackson for 32 yards on a third and seven.
As important as the drive was in producing points, it also erased over five minutes of the clock, essentially putting the game away. Any lingering doubt was erased when a Maas pass was broken up by Stewart on fourth down with 50 seconds left. Thus ended a miserable day for Maas, who nearly had as many interceptions (3) as completions (4).
"I remember that game was still close at the end; that was a little scary," Stewart said. "I think I was more nervous at that point of the game than I was at any of the other previous games that we played."
The offense registered what turned out to be its lowest point (24) and total yardage (351) production of the regular season. But, conversely, the defense allowed its lowest point total of the season to a conference foe.
"Our defense held us in there," Jackson said. "That crowd was harder to play in front of than USC or Illinois. Autzen Stadium was packed, and it was loud.
"But we played well," he continued. "We stuck together through the good and the bad and made plays when we had to make them."
With another key conference road win secured, the Cougars were able to enjoy an unblemished 5-0 mark going into a bye week.
Then it was California and homecoming, when the offense would make its biggest statement of the season.
Relive the Roses
- Chapter 1: Motivation
- Chapter 2: Fourth and Roses to Go
- Chapter 3: The Catch. The Block. Vanquishing History.
- Chapter 4: The Nation Begins to Take Notice
- Chapter 5: Fabulous!
- Chapter 6: Getting Defensive
- Chapter 7: 63 and 6-0
- Chapter 8: In Elite Company
- Chapter 9: Fumble, Then a Recovery
- Chapter 10: Stepping Up to the Challenge
- Chapter 11: Memories of a Memorable Man
- Chapter 12: Confidence
- Chapter 13: A Storybook Championship
- Chapter 14: Leading up to New Year's Day
- Chapter 15: A Block that Lent a Great Assist
- Chapter 16: A Game 67 Years in the Making
- Chapter 17: Playing No. 1 to a Deadlock
- Chapter 18: To the Final Snap