When Mike Leach was hired by WSU over the offseason, a lot of Duck fans were excited about the prospect of him facing off against Chip Kelly in a matchup of offensive minds. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out that way. WSU is struggling on both sides of the ball. Their defense is slightly improved from recent years, but that won't be enough to stop Oregon's talented offense. While the Ducks have slipped slightly this year, Washington State's defense is not strong enough to slow the Ducks significantly.
Oregon's offense has not been quite as efficient as we'd hoped coming into the season. Injuries, new starting skills players, and a new quarterback have led to a number of issues. After the first half onslaught against Arkansas State, the Ducks have sputtered.
After 4 weeks, the Ducks have only the 19th ranked offense in the country according to FEI, a statistic used by Football Outsiders to measure offensive success on a drive-by-drive basis (S&P+ is not yet released to include the week 4 games). Against Arizona, the Ducks failed to gain 6 yards per for the first time this season, despite playing their starters for just about the entire game. Their 6.56 yards per play rank only 24th nationally.
A big reason for these struggles is turnovers. Oregon has already thrown 4 interceptions this year, and while those are correctable, it also puts the Ducks in the bottom half of the country. But what is really disastrous is Oregon's fumbling issues. The Ducks have already fumbled the ball an amazing 14 times, and lost 6 of those. That puts Oregon in the bottom 10 nationally for both fumbles and fumbles lost. Lastly, Oregon has also been very poor in penalties, ranking 115th nationally in penalties per game. While some of these have been defensive penalties, offensive penalties have helped to stall a number of drives this season.
Now, this shouldn't be noted as a dire or even worrisome situation (yet). The Oregon offense is loaded with talent at every level. Running back, offensive line, tight end, wide receiver, and quarterback have all shown things that should make Oregon fans very, very excited. They've shown the ability to produce long plays on the ground and through the air, and have also shown the ability to convert big 3rd and long opportunities, something the Ducks have struggled with over the last year and half. Overall, the Ducks have been excellent on both 3rd and 4th down.
In past years, despite WSU giving the Ducks competitive games, the Oregon offense has rolled. Over the past two meetings, the Ducks have gained over 8 yards per play. While the Ducks scored only 43 in each game, they moved the ball when they had it. This is the type of performance I'm looking for on Saturday.
WSU does not yet have the talent to slow an offense like Oregon. The Ducks have too much talent across the board. They will move the ball throughout the game and score in bunches. But what I'd like to see is the Ducks improve their consistency. I want to see a mostly mistake-free game from the offensive line where they get a push. I'd like to see the backfield hold onto the ball. I'd like to see the receivers continue to get open and hold onto the ball.
The Oregon offense is still a work in progress, and I have no doubt that it will improve under the guidance of Chip Kelly. But we need to continue to see growth from the young players as the Ducks continue their run for a 4th straight conference title.