Oregon Falls At Washington St.
PULLMAN, Wash. - The difference between the top two scoring teams in the Pac-10 this day came down to Washington State's defense.
The fifth-ranked Cougars reined in the league's top rusher, Onterrio Smith, while Jason Gesser threw four touchdown passes and Jermaine Green ran for a career-high 180 yards in Washington State's 32-21 victory over No. 15 Oregon on Saturday.
'The defense played unbelievably. They never gave Onterrio Smith a break,' WSU coach Mike Price said. 'They pressured the quarterback all the time.'
The Cougars (9-1, 6-0 Pac-10) moved within one victory of clinching a trip the Rose Bowl. And with No. 1 Oklahoma's loss, Washington State might climb up from fifth in the Bowl Championship Series standings, which determine who plays for the national title.
Green easily outperformed Oregon's banged-up star tailback, Smith, who was leading the conference at nearly 127 yards a game despite missing last week's victory over Stanford with a sore left knee.
A year after he ran for a school-record 285 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's 24-17 victory over the Cougars, Smith carried the ball 25 times for just 64 yards.
'Last year, they over-pursued and were too aggressive. That resulted in big plays,' Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. 'This year, they played it much safer. They kept their tackles home and played more cautiously to keep (Smith) contained. Onterrio is probably not 100 percent. He has a sore toe. They did a very good job of stopping him.'
Oregon came into the game as the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, averaging 37.9 points per game, followed by Washington State, with 34.6.
Washington State beat the Ducks (7-3, 3-3) for the first time since 1997 and the first time in Martin Stadium since 1996. The unusual schedule had Oregon playing in Pullman for the third straight time in the series.
'We finally got it done,' Gesser said. 'When somebody beats you up three times, you really want to get them back.'
Jason Fife threw a 16-yard scoring pass to Jason Willis, but it was the Ducks' defense that provided the rest of the team's points, returning a fumble and an interception for TDs. Fife finished 16-of-35 for 192 yards and an interception.
Gesser threw TD passes of 3 and 4 yards to Mike Bush and hit Devard Darling for scores covering 8 and 46 yards. Gesser completed 20 of 38 passes for 277 yards and one interception.
Bush caught nine passes for 107 yards and Darling added 133 yards on seven catches.
The Cougars outgained Oregon on the ground 190-60 thanks to Green, who had 113 in the first half, including a 59-yard run at the start of the second quarter to set up a field goal.
'It was a team effort. If it wasn't for my linemen, I couldn't have done it,' Green said. 'We wanted to come out and prove to everybody that we were the real deal.'
Gesser said the Cougars planned to pick on the Ducks' shorter corners.
'We knew their corners were not as good as our receivers,' he said. 'We said, `If you want to go one-on-one, our guys are better than your guys.' '
Washington State led 17-14 at halftime, with Drew Dunning providing the margin with a 45-yard field goal into the wind.
The Cougars trailed 21-17 after Kevin Mitchell intercepted Gesser's pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter. Dunning's 35-yarder pulled the Cougars to 21-20 as time expired in the period.
Gesser's 4-yard TD pass to Bush capped a 96-yard drive with 8:56 left in the game, putting the Cougars ahead to stay.
WSU scored first on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Gesser to Darling after Oregon was flagged for interference as Marcus Trufant tried to field a punt at the Ducks 32.
Two series later, Oregon got on the board when cornerback Steven Moore stripped the ball from Gesser's hand and ran 12 yards to the end zone.
Fife hit Willis for a 16-yard scoring pass to complete a 92-yard drive midway through the second quarter, giving the Ducks a 14-10 lead.
Washington State came back to score on the next series, an 80-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard TD pass from Gesser to Bush.
The Cougars have next week off before playing Washington at home and UCLA in Los Angeles on Dec. 7.
By JOHN K. WILEY
Associated Press Writer