Pac-12 After Dark never fails to disappoint. Unless, perhaps, you’re commissioner Larry Scott watching the league’s hopes for a College Football Playoff bid nearly hit the skids.
No. 11 Oregon got a last second 26 yard field goal from freshman kicker Camden Lewis to stay alive in the elusive postseason chase, snapping a four-game skid to Washington State 37-35 in the kind of contest you just rarely see anywhere else except deep into Saturday night out West.
Leading the way for the Ducks was not quarterback Justin Herbert but the guy he shares the backfield with in CJ Verdell. The speedy tailback notched a career-high 257 yards on the ground as he found the end zone three times. That included breaking off an 89 yarder nearly untouched that delighted the Autzen Stadium crowd and for good measure the sophomore nearly doubled as the leading receiver (50 yards, just shy of Juwan Johnson‘s 64) to boot.
The team averaged six and a half yards per carry as a result of the rushing effort and milked the clock like an option team, not needing to rely on Herbert (21-of-30, 222 yards passing) all that much as the signal-caller’s FBS-leading streak of 35 games with a touchdown pass came to an end. The likely first round pick did turn in an efficient performance against a defense that dared him to hand the ball off and came up big in marching the team right down the field for the game-winning field goal with under a minute left.
Such positive vibes on offense were offset by the play of the UO defense, which didn’t handle Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack quite as well as they had recent Pac-12 opponents. Cougars QB Anthony Gordon tossed a pick-six and another early interception but otherwise was on point in throwing for 406 yards and three scores — including a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down with an even 60 seconds left on the clock. Shifty tailback Max Borghi was all over the field as the top weapon like usual, rushing for 54 yards and a TD while also catching eight passes for 70 yards.
It was all for not however, as Oregon netted their first win against Wazzu in Eugene since 2013 and ended an overall four-game losing streak to their division rivals. The Ducks pretty much locked up the Pac-12 North in the process too, sitting atop the standings as the conference’s only undefeated team in league play while holding tiebreakers over every other team in the division sans Civil War rival Oregon State. They can potentially clinch a trip to Santa Clara next weekend when they visit USC.
Maybe more importantly for Scott and the fans out West, they also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with another inexplicable loss for a national contender and will continue to keep the Pac-12 in the hunt for a College Football Playoff bid into November alongside league favorite Utah. It wasn’t pretty but surviving and advancing is the name of the game at this point on the calendar in this wild and crazy sport.