Oregon Ducks vs. Washington State Cougars: Complete Game Preview
The No. 2 Oregon Ducks are set to face off with the up-and-down Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
Everyone knows what to expect from the undefeated Ducks. The biggest question mark is which Wazzu team will show up in Eugene.
Will it be the team that nearly beat Auburn on the road a week before beating USC in Los Angeles? Or will it be the squad that reverted to old form in blowout losses to Stanford and Oregon State in recent weeks?
For the sake of Washington State coach Mike Leach, let's hope it is the former and that the game is competitive.
The outspoken Leach had plenty to say after his team was outscored 35-0 by Oregon State last week after holding a 24-17 lead in the third quarter. Leach went as far as to tell The Spokesman-Review that his team quit.
The Ducks have dominated the series as of late, but this is the best Washington State team in years.
Will the Cougars let the loss to Oregon State linger, or will they come out on fire and try to shock the world by taking down the Ducks?
Time: 7:00 p.m. PT Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Records: Oregon (6-0, 3-0 in Pac-12); WSU (4-3, 2-2 in Pac-12)
Head-to-head: The Ducks are 12-3 in the last 15 games against the Cougars, including six in a row. In 90 meetings, the Ducks hold a 47-36-7 edge on the Cougars.
Last meeting: Oregon defeated Washington State 51-26 in Seattle (2012)
The Spread: According to VegasInsider.com, Oregon is favored by 38 points.
Oregon Keys to Victory
Avoid a Letdown
The Ducks are coming off an emotional win on the road, having beaten rival Washington for the 10th straight time.
Letdowns are almost a given in sports, but if a team can shake it off quickly and get back to business, a complete meltdown can be avoided.
Remember back in 2003 when the Ducks beat No. 3 Michigan at home to improve their record to 4-0?
Washington State rolled into Autzen Stadium the next week and was the beneficiary of one of the most embarrassing performances of all-time by a ranked team.
Oregon threw five interceptions, lost two fumbles and had two punts blocked. That was the first half.
In the second half, the Ducks threw two more interceptions and were stopped on downs on two occasions.
Washington State took advantage of nine Oregon turnovers and two blocked punts to demolish the Ducks 55-16.
With a veteran coaching staff, an experienced team, the Pac-12's top defense and a poised and battle-tested quarterback, the Ducks will avoid a repeat of 2003 as long as they stay focused.
Get Out Fast
Washington State has its best team in years, having nearly beaten Auburn on the road and beaten USC in Los Angeles. The Cougars have come back down to earth with two straight losses since then. But even with a 4-3 record, they have it in them to make the undefeated Ducks work.
Wazzu has the least productive rushing attack in the country in yards per game, so the Ducks know they are up against a heavy passing attack.
If it gets out out to a quick start, Wazzu will completely abandon the run. Oregon has one of the top pass defenses in the country and will shut down the Cougars air attack if they are forced to throw it on every down.
The more distance the Ducks put between themselves and the upstart Cougars, the more they will be able to pin their ears back and get after Wazzu quarterback Connor Halliday.
Washington State Keys to Victory
Establish the Run
Anything the Cougars get on the ground is a plus. If they have any chance of hanging around in this game, they will need to slow the game down and move the chains with the run game.
Keep It Close
If the Cougars can hit a couple of big plays early to stunt any Oregon momentum, they could pounce on the Ducks. Oregon is due for a game in which it comes out flat, and Wazzu has a scrappy team that could make the Ducks sweat if things start out slowly.
Washington State will need to capitalize on turnovers, convert in the red zone and take any momentum it gains and run with it. Its best chance to win will come from its ability to take what is given to it and make it count.
Oregon Players to Watch
Yeah, you might want to keep an eye on this kid. He has done nothing but increase his odds of winning the Heisman Trophy in recent weeks. Given another strong performance this week against the Cougars, he will be an even stronger candidate to become the first player in school history to bring home the Heisman Trophy.
HeismanPundit.com has Mariota as the leader in the Heisman Trophy race and dropped some interesting information when writing the following:
Mariota shined in his first true test of the season, totaling 454 yards of offense and four touchdowns against No. 15 Washington on the road. He now has 25 total touchdowns on the season and no turnovers, a remarkable stat that could gain traction with Heisman voters if it continues for much longer. He remains on pace for 54 combined touchdowns by the time the Heisman vote is due, which is ahead of what Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel produced in their trophy-winning years. He takes on Washington State this week and then faces UCLA and Stanford in two crucial games that could determine whether or not he wins the Heisman and, if so, by how much.
In wins over Colorado and Washington over the last two weeks, Mariota has thrown for 721 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 121 yards and three more touchdowns.
On the season, the sophomore QB has thrown for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. He has also rushed for 426 yards and eight touchdowns.
Seeing what Oregon has done in three games after Thomas went down with an ankle injury on the opening kickoff against Cal is mind-boggling. The Ducks haven't missed a beat with their biggest home run threat on the sidelines.
Even with a deep group of offensive weapons on the roster, the Ducks will need Thomas to be on the field to make big plays with big games against UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State still ahead. This weekend would be a great time for him to get back in and readjust to the speed of the game.
Despite only playing in a portion of three games, Thomas has 512 total yards and six touchdowns.
Washington State Players to Watch
Quarterback Connor Halliday
Halliday will need to eliminate the interceptions and have a big game if the Cougars are to have a chance against a nasty Oregon defense.
Safety Deone Bucannon
Oregon's receivers will need to try to avoid his big hits in order to keep their heads on straight. Bucannon is a playmaker against the run and the pass, so Marcus Mariota will need to know where he is at all times.
Wazzu's wide receivers
Sophomore Gabe Marks leads the Cougars with 46 catches for 512 yards and four touchdowns. Behind Marks, there are 11 other Cougars with at least 10 receptions on the season.
Mike Leach runs a system that gets the ball out quickly and spreads it around to the open man, but his teams have almost always had a leading man. At Texas Tech, Leach had Michael Crabtree, and after a falling-out with leading receiver Marquess Wilson last year, Marks became the man in Pullman.
What They Are Saying
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich knows that Washington State is a much better team than it has been in recent years.
Oregonlive.com's Andrew Greif asked Helfrich what he thought about Wazzu's improvement.
They're a lot better from the talent standpoint and scheme standpoint than what their numbers indicate on defense. Offensively you know what you're going to get from a tech standpoint with coach Leach. They've done a great job, forever, running their system and part of that is pressuring the quarterback, part of that is confusing with coverage, part of that is trying to get your hand in throwing lanes and create turnovers. But they present totally different yet huge challenges on both sides of the ball and they've done great job in their special teams and they have a coach we played against a couple years ago who really prepares their special team well. Again, it's a tremendous challenge every week.
As reported on Registerguard.com by Nicholas Geranios of the Associated Press, Washington State head coach Mike Leach doesn't like his team's lack of discipline on defense. “I think we have undisciplined eyes,” Leach said. “The majority of the yards...are on big explosive plays. It’s not play after play.”
According to the Eugene Register-Guard's Steve Mims, one Wazzu player likes the challenge of playing in a loud environment on the road.
WSU DB Damante Horton: "We love going on the road because we know it is us vs. everyone. (UO) is pretty loud, but we love it. Love the boos.
— Steve Mims (@SteveMims_RG) October 14, 2013
The Cougars haven't beaten the Ducks since 2006, and it doesn't look like that will change this weekend when they travel to Eugene.
The 38-point Vegas spread might be a little much, considering the Cougars are a Pac-12 opponent with a 4-3 record. Couple that with the Ducks returning home from a big road win against their bitter rivals in Seattle, and the Ducks could be in for a slight letdown.
With that in mind, don't count on the Ducks covering the huge spread, but also don't lay anything on the Cougars either. With Washington State tripping over itself recently, expect an easy Oregon victory that pushes the Ducks' record to 7-0.
Prediction: Oregon 52, Washington State 17