1. Keep The Bennett Bandwagon Rolling
After jumping out to an encouraging 3-1 start, the Cougars have lost their last three games entering Saturday afternoon's contest at Oregon. In those three losses, the Cougars have been defeated by an average margin of 18.7 points, appearing less and less threatening in each passing contest. Whether it's fading team moral or simply the competition of the Pac-12 Conference catching up to them, Washington State seems to have lost much of the bite they had only a month ago. With that, similar to last week at Colorado, this weekend's game versus Washington State presents another opportunity for the Ducks to perhaps rest the battered bodies of quarterback Darron Thomas (knees) and running back LaMichael James (elbow). Against Colorado, redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett made his first collegiate start in place of the injured Thomas, going 11-for-20 passing for 156 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his six carries for 69 yards on the ground. And since taking over for Thomas midway through the Arizona State game, Bennett has led Oregon to scores on 10 of 14 possessions, excluding a drive that saw the Ducks take a knee to run out the clock in the first half at Colorado. This near spotless execution of the offense for a first year player the likes of Bennett has been impressive, and in turn, has made the Ducks even deeper at the quarterback position. Building upon Bennett's confidence and allowing Thomas to get even closer to 100 percent could pay long-term dividends as the Ducks, despite being less than full strength, should be able to handle their opponent for a second week in a row.
2. Don't Overlook Lobbestael
Without junior quarterback Jeff Tuel, senior Marshall Lobbestael has taken striking command of the Cougar offense. Through seven games, Lobbestael has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,739 yards, 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions, establishing an efficiency rating of 151.93, which rates him sixth in the Pac-12 just behind USC's Matt Barkley (154.73) and Arizona's Nick Foles (153.07). Though he's not as mobile as Tuel, Lobbestael has demonstrated a pocket presence and an ability to distribute the ball to his talented group of receivers, led by sophomore Marquess Wilson. The Ducks on the other hand have develop a potent pass rush the past few weeks, which has resulted in 20 sacks for the defense, ranking them second in the Pac-12 Conference, however the secondary must be in the right position to make an interception or break up a pass if Lobbestael is able to get rid of the ball. After a virtual bye last weekend, Oregon's defense must continue to operate at a high level against an opponent far more suited to make plays if permitted.
3. Stay Out Of The Tub
If this list looks strangely similar to the one you saw last week, it's because the Ducks are again a runaway favorite to turn this matchup into a blowout. Yes, the Cougars are indeed an upgrade from the Colorado team the Ducks saw last week, but not so much so the that Ducks should need to pull out all the stops to come away with a win. If all goes according to Oregon's plan, many of their starters should be healthy and resting on the bench by the time the fourth quarter begins. If possible, maintaining overall health and depth coming out of the Washington State game could prove to be vital, as the Ducks embark upon a critical four game stretch that will see them face their stiffest barrage of competition to date. Oregon will need all hands on deck as visits to Washington and Stanford come in consecutive weeks before closing out the regular season at home versus USC and Oregon State.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
3 Keys To Washington State
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