EUGENE — Oregon stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas returned from injury but true freshman De’Anthony Thomas sparked the No. 7 Ducks with two second-half touchdowns in a 43-28 victory over Washington State on Saturday.
Darron Thomas, who missed a game because of a knee injury, returned to start against the Cougars but threw two interceptions in the first half and was replaced by backup Bryan Bennett in the second.
Washington State (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) lost its fourth straight. The Cougars hung tough with Oregon for much of the game and trailed by only 15-10 at the half.
Lavasier Tuinei caught two touchdown passes for Oregon (7-1, 5-0), which has won 21 straight games at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks have also won 17 straight conference games.
De’Anthony Thomas, a running back from Los Angeles, has 11 touchdowns this season, an Oregon record for a true freshman. His second score of the game was a 93-yard kickoff return.
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.
Thomas, wearing a brace on his left knee, did not look limited mobility-wise and it was unclear if he left the game because of the injury. He finished with 8-of-13 passing for 153 yards and a score.
Bennett completed four of seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
Marshall 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.
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.
Andrew 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 cornerback Damante 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 a 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.
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.
Also absent was All-American cornerback/kick returner Cliff Harris, who was suspended earlier this week after he was cited during a traffic stop for driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance and failing to wear a seat belt.
Harris cannot participate in any football-related activities. It was a second strike for the junior, who was suspended to start the season after he was cited for driving 118 mph this June.
Harris reportedly paid to have his license reinstated on Friday.