The Oregon Ducks have suffered a swift fall from the BCS national championship discussion with two losses in their past three games. While its 26-20 defeat to Stanford on Nov. 7 was understandable, Oregon's 42-16 loss to Arizona last week had many scratching their heads.
The setback booted Oregon (9-2) out of the Pac-12 Championship and has made the Rose Bowl an afterthought, but tensions are always raised when the Ducks face their bitter rivals, the Oregon State Beavers.
OSU (6-5) is also struggling and has lost four straight entering Friday's 117th edition of the Civil War. Let's take a look at the keys for both teams heading into this heated intrastate matchup.
Oregon Offense vs. OSU Defense
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is still one of the top players in the country, even with his team's recent struggles. The sophomore has 3,127 yards on 64.4 percent passing with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. Both picks came in last week's loss to Arizona. What killed Oregon against the Sun Devils were two first-half turnovers, as Arizona led, 28-9, at intermission.
The Ducks still have the No. 4 scoring offense among NCAA FBS schools, propelled by their 10th-ranked rushing attack that averages 277.9 yards.
De'Anthony Thomas (493 yards, seven touchdowns) entered this season as the Ducks' starting running back, but has been slowed by an ankle injury which caused him to miss four games. In last week's contest in Tucson, Ariz., Oregon featured back Byron Marshall (995 yards, 14 TD) also hurt his ankle, leaving his status for Friday uncertain.
Andrew Greif, of The Oregonian, reported that Marshall left Monday's practice on crutches, which certanly wasn't a good sign:
The Ducks are fortunate to have a healthy Thomas ready to re-assume the No. 1 running back role if Marshall can't go. Oregon also has freshman Thomas Tyner (549 yards, eight TDs), who has made major contributions in his first season in Eugene.
In the passing game, Josh Huff (48 catches, 850 yards, eight TDs) and Bralon Addison (50 catches, 798 yards, seven TDs) have been Mariota's favorite targets this season.
Don't count on Oregon's offense to sputter two weeks in a row, especially against an OSU defense that has given up an average of 31.7 points per game to rank 95th out of 123 FBS teams. The Beavers defense hit rock bottom last week against Washington, when it gave up a season-high 69 points in a 42-point blowout. Oregon's defense will be hard-pressed to keep the Civil War from being a high-scoring affair.
OSU Offense vs. Oregon Defense
Mariota isn't the only marquee quarterback playing in this game. Sean Mannion has also made a name for himself this season in Corvallis, Ore.
The junior signal-caller leads all quarterbacks in the nation in passing yards (4,089), and his 34 passing touchdowns are second only to Fresno State's Derek Carr (39). He's done it rather efficiently, posting a 66.3 completion percentage while throwing 13 interceptions.
However, 10 of those picks have come in the last three contests, as noted in a tweet by college football analyst Phil Steele:
Mannion's main target has been 5'10", 186-pound wideout Brandin Cooks, who leads the nation in receptions (110) and receiving yards (1,560) to go along with his 15 touchdowns. But the Beavers rushing game has struggled mightily all season, as the team has a combined 801 yards in 11 games for a dismal 2.8 yards-per-carry average.
Even though Oregon's offense might be getting on an off the field quickly, the defense has been able to hold up its end of the bargain. Given the rate that Oregon's offense scores, it's impressive that the Ducks rank No. 21 in scoring defense at 20.4 points allowed points per game.
On paper, OSU looks completely one-dimensional, and teams have seemed to figure out Mannion and the offense after the Beavers got off to a 6-1 start. But OSU has come back down to earth the past few weeks against good competition, like ranked-opponents Stanford and Arizona State, along with upstart USC.
Oregon has won five straight Civil Wars and looks poised to keep that going in 2013. OSU hasn't won the Platypus Trophy since James Rodgers' touchdown in the second overtime of the 2007 edition of the rivalry game, and isn't built to keep up with Oregon's fast-paced offense.
Mannion looked like a Heisman candidate at the start of the year, but his regression this past month has to be a cause for concern.
Still, anything can happen when these two teams meet, and Oregon is going through some major struggles of its own. But it's hard to envision Oregon State's offense putting up big points on the board after the unit has averaged just 17.5 point per game over the past four contests—all losses.
The Ducks may be hurting, but Mariota is a more complete quarterback under center and his team has a much better defense than Oregon State. Look for the Ducks to run rampant in Autzen Stadium on Friday in a big Oregon victory.
Score: Oregon 55, Oregon State 17