Nov. 11, 2002
By JOHN K. WILEY Associated Press Writer
PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State coach Mike Price hopes for two things each November: a good defense and somebody who can run the ball.
Price got both Saturday as the Cougars moved within a victory of winning the Pac-10 title, overwhelming defending champion Oregon and snapping a four-game losing streak against the Ducks.
The win vaulted Washington State (9-1, 6-0 Pac-10) to its highest ranking ever - from fifth to No. 3 in The Associated Press poll.
"It sure helps when you can play defense and run the football in November," Price said after the Cougars beat Oregon 32-21.
Jason Gesser threw four touchdown passes and Jermaine Green, making just his second start of the season, ran for a career-high 180 yards on 25 carries, leading the Cougars' fourth-period comeback.
"What people thought this game would go, as far as who was going to do what, completely flipped," WSU offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller said. "We were the ones who ran the football."
Oregon's Onterrio Smith, the Pac-10's rushing leader who burned the Cougars for 285 yards last year, was expected to dominate. But the Cougars' defense held the banged-up star to just 64 yards on 25 carries.
Smith, who sat out last week's game with a bruised knee, sprained a toe and left the game in the third quarter.
"In the second half, we came out with more intensity and fire and got it done," WSU safety Eric Coleman said. "The offense came around. Devard and Bush had some big catches."
Gesser, 20-of-38 for 277 yards, capitalized on the 6-foot-6 Bush and 6-3 Darling to beat the shorter Ducks corners in the fourth quarter.
Bush grabbed a 4-yard TD pass over Oregon corner Marques Binns that gave the Cougars a 26-21 lead. On WSU's next series, Binns deflected a pass from Gesser near the end zone. It popped into Darling's hands for a 46-yard scoring play.
"I knew I had him beat on the go route, but he tipped it up and I kept my concentration and kept my eye on the ball and made the play," said Darling, who finished with seven catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Bush, playing through the pain of an impacted tooth, had nine catches for 107 yards and two TDs.
WSU outgained Oregon 267-102 in the second half. The Cougars outgained Oregon on the ground 190-60. Green accounted for 113 yards in the first half, including a 59-yard run at the start of the second quarter to set up a field goal.
Oregon (7-3, 3-3) dropped from 15th to No. 23 in the AP poll and to 22nd in the USA Today-ESPN coaches poll. WSU climbed from fifth to No. 4 in that poll.
"Give credit to Washington State," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "They made plays and continued to come at us. We did not make plays."
The 6-0 conference record matches WSU's 1930 Rose Bowl team. The Cougars' 1997 Rose Bowl team had five conference wins before losing to Arizona State. Washington State has a bye this week before facing rival Washington at Martin Stadium on Nov. 23.
"Now we have a chance to win the conference and a chance to go to the Rose Bowl playing the Huskies in the Apple Cup. That's the way the Cougars and Huskies want it every year," Price said. "This will be a perfect opportunity for us, and we have two weeks to prepare."