PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) - LaMichael James scored three touchdowns, including an 84-yard scoring reception, and No. 3 Oregon shook Washington State in the second half for a 43-23 win on Saturday.
Coming off a big home win over Stanford that flew the Ducks past Boise State in the AP Top 25, Oregon struggled to make just enough plays to hold off the pesky Cougars. But whether it was enough for the Ducks to hold their spot in the polls remains to be seen. Oregon (6-0, 3-0) was a 36-point favorite, yet led just 36-23 late in the third quarter.
Even for the big boys, style points count.
Backup quarterback Nate Costa played the final three quarters for Oregon after Darron Thomas left with an apparent shoulder injury. Costa led three scoring drives and ran for an 18-yard touchdown.
The Ducks were also without backup running back Kenjon Barner for most of the game after getting the worst of a scary collision on a first-quarter kickoff return.
Cliff Harris added a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown, his third punt return for a score this season.
Jeff Tuel threw for 245 yards and a touchdown and James Montgomery added a 26-yard TD run in the first half for Washington State (1-5, 0-3). Jared Karstetter had 10 catches for 106 yards.
But this was not the offensive showcase most expected for the top scoring team in the country against a Washington State defense giving up more than 43 per game and unable to stop the run recently. Last week, UCLA pounded the Cougars defense for 437 yards rushing.
James and his crew still ended up with their yards, but it wasn't quite as easy as everyone expected. James finished with 136 yards on 25 carries and Costa added 84 yards. But Washington State controlled much of the possession and had a chance to close within 36-30 late in the third quarter before a critical mistake.
Down 36-17 after Costa's TD run on Oregon's first possession of the second half, Washington State scored on Daniel Blackledge's leaping 11-yard grab in the end zone, getting flipped on his head as he came down. It was just the second second-half touchdown allowed by Oregon this season.
Then the Cougars got the break they needed when James fumbled after a 55-yard run.
Tuel quickly drove the Cougars down the Oregon 12, thanks largely to a 35-yard fade pass to Karstetter. On first-and-10, Tuel threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Oregon's Casey Matthews at the 2.
The Ducks then put the game away with a 91-yard scoring drive, capped by Costa's screen pass that Jeff Maehl took 34 yards for a touchdown.
Costa finished 13 of 15 passing for 151 yards. Maehl caught a season-high 10 passes for 119 yards. Thomas played the first quarter and first series of the second, but then ran back to the locker room after having his shoulder examined. When he returned to the sideline, Thomas tried loosening up, but never re-entered. He was 8 of 12 for 153 yards, most coming on James' TD catch.
Barner was injured in the first quarter when he was flattened on a kickoff return by Washington State's Anthony Carpenter. As Carpenter ran full speed through a block, he collided with Barner, first glancing off Barner shoulder and then colliding with his helmet.
Barner fumbled and crumpled to the turf. Trainers quickly rushed out and tended to Barner for more than 10 minutes, at one point bringing out a neck brace and backboard. But Barner sat up, walked with assistance to a stretcher and was transported by ambulance to Pullman Regional Hospital where he was listed in stable condition.
Washington State recovered Barner's fumble and Logwone Mitz stretched in from the 1 to give the Cougars a 14-8 lead.