#2 Oregon Ducks vs. Washington State Cougars
7:30 PT :: CenturyLink Field :: Seattle
TV :: ESPN2
THE MATCHUP: Oregon leaves the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium for the first time this season as they travel north to Seattle for a matchup with Mike Leach's Washington State Cougars. Washington State comes into this game at 2-2, with narrow victories over Eastern Washington and UNLV. However, their last game featured a terrible home loss to Colorado, a game in which Washington State blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead against the lowly Buffaloes. The excitement of the Mike Leach hire rejuvenated the fan base in the offseason with the promise of big points, but the offense has actually regressed to this point in the Leach era while the defense has remained one of the worst in major college football.
WASHINGTON STATE ON OFFENSE: Everybody knows the Mike Leach offense. Washington State is going to spread out four or five wide and throw the football. The air raid was wildly successful for Leach at Texas Tech, but results have not indicated that similar success is imminent this season for the Cougars. Its an offense that has been plagued in all facets--bad offensive line play, inability to run the football, sacks, and interceptions. The quarterback position has been a revolving door. Jeff Tuel has missed two games with an injury, while Connor Halliday has thrown five interceptions and completes barely over 50% of his passes. Whether Tuel plays at less than 100%, or Halliday is the starter on Saturday, Washington State is going to have to get much better play from the quarterback position than they have so far.
While the running game isn't the focus of Leach's attack, its been an unmitigated disaster. The Cougars throw the ball twice as often as they run it. However, when they do run it, they get a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. Part of this is due to an offensive line that has not opened up many holes, and part of this is running backs that aren't really Pac-12 caliber players. This is not something I expect to get better before the core talent issue can be addressed in recruiting. And its certainly not getting better against Oregon's defensive line.
The Cougars do have a bevy of wide receivers, but they have struggled to get open at time. The headliner is Marquess Wilson, but Wilson has faced almost constant double-team this season. Consequently, Wilson is only third on the team in receptions, though he remains the big play threat. I'm interested to see him tangle one-on-one with Terrance Mitchell. Isiah Myers has been the safety valve with 24 receptions this season, while Gabe Marks has complimented Wilson downfield. Its a pretty competent group--when they can get the ball.
WASHINGTON STATE DEFENSE: This heading is a misnomer, as clearly, Washington State has no defense. They gave up 35 and blew that big lead against Colorado. They allowed 27 against hapless UNLV. These schools are averaging 473 yards per game against Wazzu, and almost 350 of that is through the air. They haven't faced anyone that belongs on the same field with Oregon yet, and one expects that the result will not be pretty. While the defense has been nearly a universal disaster, kudos go out to Travis Long, former defensive end who swtiched to Buck linebacker and leads the nation with 6.5 sacks.
WASHINGTON STATE SPECIAL TEAMS: Andrew Furney is the kicker, with a range over 50 yards. Former Oregon kicker Mike Bowlin will punt, and averages over 44 yards per. The Cougars have statistically had good units this season in both returns and coverage.
KEY MATCHUP: Washington State offensive line vs. Oregon defensive line. The offensive line has been pretty poor for the Cougs thus far this season. They will have to play way over their heads, against by far the best line they've faced, in order to have any chance to shock the world with an upset.