Coming into the season, it seemed like the one sure bet in Mike Leach's first season would be that Washington State would have an effective air raid attack that would put up yards and points. It was understood that the defense wasn't terribly talented and that they would struggle, but the offense was supposed to be good enough to at least keep them in most games. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened, and the offense has actually regressed thus far this season, despite three of the Cougars' four games being against Colorado, UNLV, and Eastern Washington.
The regression is pretty astounding. Despite the pillow-soft schedule, the Cougars average a full third of a yard less per play less than they did for the entire season last year, and over a yard less per pass. The rushing average, while a bad 3.1 ypc last season, is worse this year at a lousy 2.4. Combine that with seven interceptions and eleven sacks already on the season, and its not hard to figure out why the Cougars average a full five points per game less than a year ago (29.8 last seson to 24.8 this season).
While Jeff Tuel is getting snaps in practice, it appears that Connor Halliday is getting the lion's share and will make his third straight start. We've seen Halliday put up some big passing number, but he's going to throw the ball wherever he pleases, double coverage be damned, which is why he has five picks in two starts this season. So he'll make bad decisions, especially when rushed. And that's key, as the offensive line really isn't very good. So you have an interception-prone offense that gives up sacks and has no running game on one side. Conversely, you have possibly the best defense in the conference with a big, physical defensive line and maybe the best two cover corners in the league?
This is right in Nick Aliotti's wheelhouse. Blitz early. Blitz often.
Given the mismatch of the Oregon defensive line against the WSU offensive line, the Ducks can probably get considerable pressure just rushing the linemen. But we know that given the ability to leave Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on an island against Marquess Wilson and feel good about it that so much more can be done. Aliotti won't be afraid to send five or six, or to send a corner. The only question is if he'll need to. He'll certainly disguise packages with Dion Jordan and Tony Washington at drop end. Given the lack of a running game, the one counter Washington State has is their extensive screen package, but Oregon's overall defensive speed should be able to neutralize that.
There's no special trick here. Oregon just needs to play the aggressive brand of defense that they prefer to. Put Connor Halliday in a position to make mistakes, and he's more than happy to oblige.