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Will They, Won’t They: Cougars Edition

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Why Oregon Will or Won’t Win Against Washington State

NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s here. The real rivalry with a team from the state of Washington. The Cougars from Pullman come to Autzen in what will most likely be a tightly contested game, as most of the recent matchups have been with the Cougars. Oregon won 43-29 in 2020 in a back-and-forth game until the Ducks pulled away in the fourth quarter. Now, both teams are fresh off wins and this game will likely be the biggest determinant in who represents the Pac-12 North Division in the Championship Game. The stakes in this game are high, are the Ducks ready?


Why They’ll Win:

Third Down Efficiency

According to the NCAA’s stats, Oregon currently ranks sixth in the nation in 3rd down efficiency, converting on 50% of their tries. That kind of conversion percentage is crucial in ball control, which translates to controlling the clock. Oregon’s run-centric offense is well constructed to control the ball and keep Wazzu’s Jayden de Laura on the sideline. Obviously we know how important the running game is to Oregon’s offensive gameplan, the Ducks just beat the Huskies with Anthony Brown finishing the game with 99 passing yards.

Oregon’s ability to convert on third downs, combined with the Cougars’ 89th ranked third down defense makes for a potential mismatch. If Wazzu can’t get the Ducks off the field, it limits de Laura and the offense’s chances at keeping up with the Ducks and that could make for a long day at Autzen.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Brown’s Intangibles

I won’t spend any time talking about how Brown isn’t the best passer of the football. There’s no point in beating a dead horse. But something that could be talked about more is Brown’s intangibles and his leadership. The rest of the Ducks have stood behind Brown in difficult times, like getting booed at home by Cal. Their belief in Brown is unwavering and part of that stems from Brown’s leadership.

Obviously a big part of Brown’s leadership comes from experience, something he has a great deal of as a sixth year senior. Another part of it comes from how Brown carries himself on the field. He’s running downfield making blocks for Travis Dye, he’s making tackles after throwing interceptions (that he threw himself but it still counts for something). He’s carried himself well at Oregon and it makes him the kind of leader on the field that players want to fight for. Yes, there are the occasional mistakes, but he has the kind of qualities that can inspire greatness.

Wazzu Run Defense

The Cougars have some talented defenders, but an area that WSU has struggled with is stopping the run. Wazzu ranks 82nd in the nation in run defense, having just given up 166 yards on the ground in a win against Arizona State. We just saw what Oregon did to Washington last week, Travis Dye had more rushing yards (211) than Washington had total yards (166).

This definitely has the potential to spell disaster for the Cougars as we all know. Oregon’s run game can grind teams into dust (see Huskies) and the Ducks can take hold of the game and keep the ball out of Jayden de Laura and Max Borghi’s hands by riding out the ground and pound routine.

Why They’ll Lose

Recent History

Did Mario Cristobal say it best when he called Wazzu as big of a rival as Oregon has? In a sense, yes. The Cougars are 4-2 against Oregon going back to 2015, although the Ducks have won the last two matchups in 2019 and last year in Pullman. Regardless, the Cougars have consistently been a tough draw for the Ducks recently and we’ve reached the point where this matchup can’t be labeled as an automatic win.

It’s true that Washington State is in a unique state, having won four out of their last five games after losing three of their first four. They’ve also done this while losing their head coach over the COVID vaccine mandate in the state of Washington. I would bet that Oregon is in for another tough battle against the Cougars.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Jayden de Laura

The Washington State quarterback has been hot as of late, completing 63% of his passes and averaging almost 300 yards per game over the Cougars last five games. He appears to be very comfortable in Wazzu’s run and shoot style offense. He carved up the Ducks last year to the tune of 321 yards and two touchdowns. de Laura is one of the better passers Oregon has faced recently, especially given that the Pac-12 doesn’t have a great stable of quarterbacks this year. It’ll be the biggest test of Oregon’s secondary since facing CJ Stroud and the Buckeyes. If Oregon isn’t up to the challenge, de Laura could have a field day.

Let-Down Game

The Ducks are currently ranked third in the College Football Playoff Rankings. They’re coming off a hard-fought win over their biggest rival in Washington. They have upcoming games against Utah, Oregon State, and god-forbid, the Pac-12 Championship. If they want to maintain a spot for the playoff, they absolutely have to win out in what is shaping up to be an emotional and dramatic finish. A loss ends any chance for the Playoff. Oregon has to play sharp and be ready to avoid a situation like 2019’s loss against Arizona State. This Cougars game has the makings of a potential trap game for Oregon, so it’s important that they take care of business and don’t let this game be a close one.

While it’s true that Wazzu has had Oregon’s number in recent years, this Ducks team is resilient and proved to the nation last week that they won’t fold easily, even when they were down 9-3 against the Huskies and started out very slowly. I think that the Cougars make it close but Oregon is able to hold them off long enough to get their third win in a row over Washington State.

Ducks 28, Cougars 21