EUGENE, Ore. — For a half, Washington State looked as though all those forecasts of a blowout loss to No. 7 Oregon might have been overblown.
The Cougars (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) trailed by just 15-10 at the break. The Ducks looked flat, and Washington State was taking advantage.
In the end, though, the Ducks (7-1, 5-0) adjusted like talented teams do, and won 43-28.
While Washington State coach Paul Wulff said the Cougars weren’t taking the loss as a moral victory, he was still proud of his team.
“If we come out and play with the focus that we did today and take care of the football and play with a higher level of execution, then we can play with anybody in the country,” he said.
The issue for the Cougars was that too often they got within striking distance and had to settle for field goals.
Andrew Furney hit two, from 40 and 35 yards. He missed a 25-yarder late in the second half.
Damante Horton had a 76-yard interception return for a touchdown, Marshall Lobbestael hit Jared Karstetter with a scoring pass and Rickey Galvin ran for another TD for the Cougars, who lost their fourth straight.
Oregon saw the return of running back LaMichael James and Darron Thomas from injury, but it was true freshman De’Anthony Thomas who helped spark the Ducks with two second-half touchdowns, including a 93-yard kickoff return.
Lavasier Tuinei also caught two touchdown passes for Oregon, which has won 21 straight games at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks have also won 17 straight conference games.
James, a Heisman finalist last season, missed two games after dislocating his right elbow in a victory over California on Oct. 6. Wearing a brace, James ran for 53 yards against the Cougars.
Darron Thomas missed Oregon’s 45-2 victory over Colorado last week because of an apparent knee injury he sustained the week before against Arizona State.
Wearing a brace on his left knee, he did not look limited mobility-wise but he threw two interceptions and did not play the second half. He finished 8 of 13 for 153 yards and a score.
Backup Bryan Bennett completed four of seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
Lobbestael, who played in place of injured Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel, completed 28 of 48 passes for 337 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted twice.
Karstetter caught seven passes for 114 yards and a score, while Marquess Wilson had a career-high 11 catches for 126 yards.
Oregon’s special teams set the tone when they blocked Washington State’s punt after the game’s opening series and Boseko Lokombo returned it 26 yards for the touchdown. Holder Jackson Rice’s pass to kicker Alejandro Maldonado was good for two extra points to put the Ducks ahead 8-0.
Furney kicked a 40-yard field goal to narrow the margin for the Cougars.
Oregon made it 15-3 when Darron Thomas, scrambling away from several defenders, got off a pass moments before he was hit. Tuinei awkwardly pulled it down and stumbled into the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown.
Furney missed a 25-yarder for the Cougars with just under three minutes left in the first half. But Washington State would quickly recover, with Horton’s 76-yard interception return for a touchdown to narrow it to 15-10 with 1:50 left.
Maldonado’s 47-yard field goal attempt for the Ducks went wide right as time ran out in the half.
Bennett set the tone for Oregon in the second half with a pitch to De’Anthony Thomas who ran the rest of the way for a 45-yard score.
After Furney’s 35-yard field goal for the Cougars, Bennett found Tuinei in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Ducks a 29-13 advantage.
The Cougars closed the gap again with Lobbestael’s 24-yard TD pass to Jared Karstetter, but De’Anthony Thomas answered with his 93-yard kickoff return for a score.
Kenjon Barner ran for a 28-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter for the Ducks. Washington State’s Rickey Galvin had an 8-yard scoring run and the two-point conversion was successful for the final margin.
“When we get down in the red zone I’ve got to be smart with the ball. It’s a team game, but at the same time the quarterback has total control over forcing it in there and making good decisions. Today in the red zone I didn’t, and it dramatically affected our offense,” Lobbestael said.
Tuel aggravated a clavicle injury in Washington State’s 44-21 loss to Oregon State last weekend, but the real problem this week turned out to be a bruised right calf. He was later diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome.