The Oregon Ducks face their first big test of the season when the No.11 Washington State Cougars come to Eugene. Washington State is undefeated (5-0) and hopes to leave Autzen Stadium as the clear-cut Pac-12 North favorites.
Injuries marred Oregon’s 45-24 victory over Cal last week. Royce Freeman and Justin Herbert both left the first half and did not return. While Freeman appears to be healthy to play, Herbert will be out longer.
Herbert broke his collarbone after forcing his way in for a touchdown. Upon stretching out to reach the goal line, he received a hit by a Cal defender in the shoulder area. He was able to walk off the field and went to the locker room.
Coach Taggart confirmed the injury and the starting quarterback had been ruled out for the Washington State game. Herbert will likely be out again next weekend the Ducks travel down to Stanford.
Offensively, the Ducks have shown their running backs can quickly step up and carry the team. Freeman may be the starting tailback, but the Ducks have talented backups on the depth chart.
Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James are fast and physical. Both can make defenders miss tackles and gain extra yards. Benoit stepped up huge last week after Freeman departed and will look to have another big game against the Cougars.
But the Ducks cannot afford to be one-dimensional on offense for any chance of wanting to pull off an upset. Quarterback, Taylor Alie, did not look comfortable or appear to be a reliable backup behind Herbert. Some benefit can be given to Alie after not seeing any action for an extended time.
Hopefully, the assumed starter is developing chemistry with the first team and working on his throwing mechanics. Alie left the game after suffering a concussion in the second half. Coach Taggart said Alie is likely available for the game.
A starter has not been named yet by Coach Taggart as both Alie and Braxton Burmeister are getting reps. Burmeister could get the call like Herbert did last season in the game against Washington. Herbert showed promise in his first start despite the Ducks being blown out. The same opportunity is possible for Burmeister should Coach Taggart elect to start the freshman.
No matter who is the starting quarterback, Oregon is going up against a Washington State team coming off a 30-27 win against overrated USC. While Cougars’ head coach, Mike Leach, praised Autzen Stadium for being one of the loudest stadiums in the country, he is hoping to avoid a let down by his players this week.
Air raid is Coach Leach’s style of offense and has the Cougars off to an undefeated start. Luke Falk has excelled under the attack as the quarterback has a potential NFL future. Last week, Falk outdueled Heisman contender, Sam Darnold, throwing for 340 yards and two touchdowns.
Washington State took the lead with under two minutes to play on a go-ahead field goal. USC had an opportunity to drive down the field. To their dismay, Darnold was stripped, and the Cougars recovered the fumble. The Trojans had no timeouts left as victory formation was all Falk needed to do to ensure victory.
Jim Leavitt will face a difficult task in containing the air raid offense with the young Oregon defense. Growth has been shown by the defense each game but will need a flawless effort to keep the Ducks in the game.
Oregon did a great job in keeping Cal quarterback, Ross Bowers, off balance throughout the game. The Ducks will need to replicate the same formula in holding Falk out of rhythm. A task in which became a bit more difficult after Coach Taggart announced linebacker, Kaulana Apelu, is out for the season after fracturing his ankle.
Falk has plenty of weapons at his disposal to keep the air raid moving. Renard Bell, Tavares Martin Jr., and Kyle Sweet are primary targets. The Cougars do not have the depth at running back like the Ducks, but Jamal Morrow can deliver damage on the ground.
Charles Nelson appears ready to return to the Ducks’ lineup after a leg injury he suffered a few weeks ago. His presence can undoubtedly provide a boost after the injuries Oregon piled up last week. Nelson, along with Brenden Schooler and Johnny Johnson III, will look to counter against the Cougars receiving unit.
The offensive line of the Ducks can expect heavy pressure as Alie and Burmeister are unproven at the quarterback position. Oregon will have to be on the lookout for Jahad Woods, Hunter Dale, and Hercules Mata’afa. All three made big plays last week against USC and will want to factor into the game again.
Washington State is going for three-straight wins over Oregon. An eight-game losing streak ended in 2015 after the Cougars defeated the Ducks in overtime, 45-38, in Eugene. Last season, the Cougars offense was too much in a 51-33 win over the Ducks.
Kickoff at 5:00 pm with a national telecast on FOX.
Injuries and uncertainty at quarterback are questions surrounding Oregon as preparations get made against Washington State. No matter the challenge, do not count the Ducks out as Coach Taggart has rejuvenated the team. Upset City can happen in Eugene, and the Washington State Cougars better be ready or will be playing from behind early.