Fresh off a 49-0 blowout victory over a ranked Arizona team, the Oregon Ducks hit the road for the first time this season against the Washington State Cougars on Saturday.
Though the game will be played at CenturyLink Field instead of the Cougars' home stadium, it's likely that the Ducks will walk into their most hostile environment of the season.
After defeating the Wildcats, Oregon took over the No. 2 ranking from LSU. A big win likely keeps the Ducks in a position for a national championship game berth, but there are a ton of top-tier teams chasing after Chip Kelly's squad.
On the other hand, Washington State comes in especially motivated after a frustrating 35-34 loss to Colorado last week, and will undoubtedly come in desperate for an upset.
With a vital Pac-12 contest in store for both teams, here's a look at everything you need to know about Saturday's contest.
When: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field in Seattle, WA
Betting Line: Oregon (-28.5), according to Vegas Insider
Oregon Injuries (via USA Today)
DT Jared Ebert, Knee, Questionable
WR Josh Huff, Leg, Questionable
LB Keloni Kamalani, Arm, Questionable
OL Carson York, Knee, Out for Season
S John Boyett, Knee, Out for Season
Washington State Injuries (via USA Today)
RB Rickey Galvin, Undisclosed, Questionable
OL Dan Spitz, Personal, Questionable
QB Jeff Tuel, Knee, Questionable
OL Rico Forges, Knee, Out
BCS/Top 25 Implications
Oregon comes into this week having taken over the No. 2 ranking from LSU and likely needing a blowout victory to create some more separation.
Which team will win on Saturday?
As we saw last week with the Tigers, voters do not take kindly to near-upsets on the road. Any score within two touchdowns will cause doubt and may cause a reversal of the minds.
On the other side of the field, Washington State likely comes into the game hoping to not get embarrassed. The Cougars lost a heartbreaker to Colorado last week and now sit 2-2 on the season, a far cry from both the Top 25 and any BCS consideration.
For head coach Mike Leach, this is the first year in what he hopes will be a strong rebuilding process. A banner upset over the Ducks won't be enough to get him in the rankings discussion, but would help his program going forward.
What They're Saying
Though the Ducks are widely regarded as one of the best offenses in college football, it's the team's defense that has been the true standout this season. As if shutting out Rich Rodriguez's vaunted Arizona offense were not enough, The Oregonian's Aaron Fentress has an astounding stat about the team's defensive dominance.
Via The Oregonian:
It's been a constant theme all season. Oregon's defense has taken the field 10 times inside its own territory through four games. Seven possession changes came following UO turnovers. Two came after failed fourth-down gambles. One was set up by a punt return.
Of the 10, Oregon has allowed two touchdowns and one field goal.
On the other hand, things aren't so cheery for the Cougars. Asked to describe the mood around Washington State following the team's loss to Colorado last week, Cougars beat reporter Howie Stalwick seemed shocked at the anger permeating around campus.
Surprised even more than angry and frustrated. That goes for players, fans
and coaches, I think. There was so much hype over Leach and his pass-happy
offense, everyone probably expected more than was realistic early in the season
with a completely new coaching staff installing a new offense and defense.
Still, a homecoming win over a Colorado team ranked 120th in the nation by
CBSSports.com … that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Oregon Player to Watch: RB De'Anthony Thomas
Following absolutely scintillating performances (and a Sports Illustrated cover) in the season's first three weeks, Thomas struggled (relatively) with extended work against Arizona.
The sophomore speedster gained just 48 yards on a season-high 12 carries and grabbed just two passes for 12 yards as stopping him seemed to be the focus of the Wildcat defense. With the Oregon offense seemingly focused on not making Thomas an every-down back, he will need to make the most of his opportunities on Saturday to rekindle his Heisman hopes.
Luckily for Oregon, the Cougars have showed a penchant for allowing the big play in 2012. Colorado burner Tony Jones broke off a huge 84-yard run last week against Washington State, and Thomas should be able to do the same if the Ducks' blocking gives him a hole.
Look for a huge game from the 19-year-old star on Saturday.
Washington State Player to Watch: QB Connor Halliday
For the Cougars to have any shot of winning on Saturday, they will need a massive game from their sophomore signal-caller.
Thus far it's been a mixed bag for Halliday, as he has shown a ton of growth from his freshman campaign, but is nowhere near consistent enough to run Leach's offense. With 855 yards passing and eight touchdowns against five interceptions, Halliday has shown a ton of potential that should pay dividends down the road.
However, the Oregon defense swallowed up a far more loaded attack against Arizona last week. Barring an unforeseen "game of his life" scenario, look for Halliday to be happy simply getting points on the board against the Ducks.
Key Matchup: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota vs. Washington State Secondary
The freshman Ducks quarterback comes into Saturday's contest having exceeded all reasonable expectations. Behind a relatively conservative scheme, Mariota has blossomed at nailing the short passes and has completed an astounding 69.6 percent of his passes thus far.
That cannot happen if the Cougars hope to make a close contest out of this game. While it is unlikely that they will be able to stop the run, Washington State needs to ramp up the pressure early on and try to fluster the young quarterback.
Successfully mitigating Mariota's effect will allow the Cougars to focus on the run as the game wears on and could keep Oregon scoring at a low clip.
If Washington State is unable to stop the pass, this game could get very ugly.
If Washington State could not beat a weak Colorado team, there is almost zero chance that the Cougars will upset the second-ranked team in the nation.
Look for another blowout win for Oregon on Saturday night.
Score Prediction: Oregon 56, Washington State 14