After a feeling-out process in the first quarter of their game with Cal last Saturday, the Oregon Duck coaching staff spotted more soft spots in the Bear defense than you’d find in a Barcalounger showroom. A few adjustments and tweaks to the offensive game plan and the rout was on.
Washington State has yet to get off to a fast start in any of their first four games. By the time the second quarter has begun for Coach Paul Wulff and his team, every game has been nearly out of reach. Wulff has his team playing great football for three quarters. Unfortunately, the first fifteen minutes have been ugly for Cougar football.
The repetitive slow starts for WSU in their games isn’t a military top secret. No sir. The players know it. The coaches know it. Fans know it. Wulff is quick to remind as his players mature, that will change.
There is reason for the optimism of Coach Wulff as he looks forward to kickoff Saturday night.
Coach Chip Kelly’s Ducks haven’t exactly come roaring out of the tunnel, onto the field, and lighting up the scoreboard in the first quarter. The Ducks have been doing damage to opponents primarily in the second and third quarters, clearly making offensive adjustments to take what defenses are giving them.
Rather than bury you in stats proving how good Oregon plays in Autzen Stadium, let’s make that a given. The Ducks have a tremendous record in front of a sold-out crowd of enthusiastic fans. Yes, the last time there wasn’t a sell out at Autzen was back in the 20th century.
If there is a better home crowd of 59,000 loyal supporters, you’re going to have to point them out by leaving a comment below.
Here’s a fun fact for you. Saturday evening, Autzen Stadium will encompass the 9th largest population community in the state of Oregon.
What is working for first-year coach Chip Kelly and Oregon through the first four games of this season?
It’s the swagger Oregon struts with that is making the difference in their play. Don’t get me wrong. There are some outstanding players on the Duck roster, but they have something under their helmets the Cougs don’t.
Oregon players know what it takes to win and go on to the gridiron to execute.
On paper, the Ducks look good but not the stuff Top-25 teams are made of. In terms of Pac-10 team performance, Oregon is good, but nothing special. They rank sixth in total defense and seventh in total offense. Set those numbers aside. The only ranking coach Kelly is concerned with is conference standing in game results. The Ducks are 1-0, which has them at the top of the Pac-10 where it counts most.
Attitude and swagger by Oregon results from having a system in place that everyone buys into. Coaches know what they’re doing. Players know what they’re doing. Put that together and you have a team that has defeated two top-25 teams in the past three weeks.
In case you are confused as to how a first-year head coach puts his system in place in just a matter of months, coach Kelly didn’t have to go through much effort. Former head man coach Mike Bellotti handed the reins of Oregon football over to his then-offensive coordinator, Kelly. Coach Kelly has been smart enough to maintain the basics of the system Bellotti was successful with for years.
It bears mentioning that Oregon also runs a very complex offensive and defensive scheme. With players coming up in their system for years, it’s possible for the coaching staff to design what clever sports reporters like to refer to as “trickeration." Oregon will come at you from so many different directions, they are simply a nightmare for an opposing coaching staff to game-plan for.
One of the keys to success for Oregon this season has been the running game. LaMichael James, a redshirt freshman from Texarkana, TX, has emerged as a their top rusher. WSU Coach Wulff describes him as “a good, quick player and a good running back. (James) is giving them a big lift.”
Jeremiah Masoli was outstanding last week against a very good Cal defense. Masoli was an incredible 21-for-25 pass attempts for 253 yards, three touchdowns, and zero, repeat, zero interceptions. That’s a darn good performance against a top-10 football team.
If there is a flaw in Masoli’s game, it’s his ability to hit receivers when staying in the pocket. He’s most dangerous when throwing on the run and improvising. Washington State will need to contain Masoli to be effective. If the Cougs drop eight players into coverage, another part of Masoli’s game will open up to him. He's the second leading rusher on the Oregon roster.
Switching to a look at the Cougs, there will be more new faces seeing playing time this week.
Yesterday afternoon Coach Wulff talked about more true freshmen taking off their redshirts and getting a taste of why they chose WSU.
“There’s no question that you’ll see Carl Winston play this week, “ said Wulff. “Alex Reitnouer will play his first college snaps.”
Reitnouer will play left guard next to Tyson Pencer who earned his first start last week against USC. Wulff went on to say, “The left side will be young, but they’re athletic kids and have bright futures.”
Add Joe Eppele with his first career start at right guard and the Cougs will have a youthful offensive line starting against the Ducks.
Looking deeper at the offense of Washington State, there will be another very young player in the huddle. True freshman Jeff Tuel will be starting at quarterback following a very nice performance over the final 2.5 quarters of play in the USC game.
Coach Wulff anticipates Tuel building confidently on last week. Talking about what his freshman quarterback need to do to have a good game, “…(if) he doesn’t get rattled and he executes our offense, takes advantage of the play that is there, and doesn’t turn the ball over,” Wulff said.
When it comes to learning what it takes to win, the Cougar defense should be a step ahead of the offensive unit based on continuity. The Cougs will have the same young men available to get after the Ducks come Saturday evening. Both coach Jody Sears and coach Chris Ball, co-defensive coordinators, have witnessed their unit mature the past couple of games.
The WSU defense continues to improve primarily because players are not only doing their individual jobs, they are trusting their teammates to do the same. To play successfully at a Pac-10 level, trust throughout the defense is critical.
Final bit of information leading into the game Saturday night: WSU media relations director Bill Stevens announced Thursday afternoon there will be limited broadcast of the game available through Comcast subscribers. The actual cable outlets and channels are, well, hit-or-miss.
Here’s a link for you to see if the game will be available through your Comcast affiliate. WSU vs. Oregon Comcast Coverage Failing the Comcast option, you can always listen to the outstanding coverage of Bob Robertson and Jim Walden on the Cougar Radio Network.
Originally published in Lew Wright's column on Examiner.com