Ducks Prepare for Cougs' Aerial Attack

Mike Leach likes to throw the football. As obvious as that statement may seem (and it unequivocally is), it's a fact that rest of the conference will soon be weary of.

Eugene, Ore.- Chip Kelly estimated Tuesday that Leach wants to "throw it 60, 70, 80 times", and that he'd "throw it 100 times" if he could. While the statement may sound utterly absurd, it might not be that far from the truth.

In Saturday's loss to Colorado, Cougar quarterback Connor Halliday attempted 60 passes. In 2003 Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons set an NCAA record for most pass attempts in a season under Leach's tutelage, tossing 719 passes in a 13 game season, an average of 55 per contest.

It might sound a risky strategy, but it was a surprisingly effective one in Lubbock, where Leach won 66% of his games in ten years there.

"I think because their mentality is to pass first, pass second, pass third they're always going to be in the ball game," Kelly explained.

Who will be attempting most of those passes Saturday is still undecided, as Halliday and senior Jeff Tuel have each started two games this season. Tuel started the opener against BYU, but much like last season, a knee injury rushed Halliday into the starting role, and most expect him to be there again Saturday.

For all intents and purposes, it won't matter, Kelly says, because the Cougars' offensive style won't be affected by who is under center.

"Its not like one quarterback is a running quarterback and the other is throwing quarterback. They're both going to run the same offense that Mike's always run," he said.

The question is, how to defend an offense that is as effective as it is predictable.

"It starts with the pass rush, not letting the quarterback set his feet," Kelly said.

Fortunately, Oregon has one of the best in the country in the 6-7 Dion Jordan, who figures to provide the necessary discomfit for the quarterback Saturday.

Jordan however, is just as weary about the other playmakers that the defense will face, notably second-team All-Pac-12 receiver Marquess Wilson.

"We've got to key on the guy we know he's going to get the ball to a lot," Jordan said, referring to the 6-4 Wilson.

A year ago, Wilson hauled in 82 passes, 12 for scores and a total of 1388 yards. Kelly attributes that success to Wilson's completeness as a receiver.

"He's tall. He's a great route runner. He's got a great wingspan and his ability to adjust on the thrown ball really speaks to his athletic ability. It doesn't always have to be an accurate throw, because he can really go get it," he said.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti plans to "mix it up" with regards to how they'll defend Wilson, switching between man over, man under, man-to-man and zone defenses to stymy Washington State's big-play threat.

But despite all that, Wilson doesn't even lead the team in pass receptions or yard; that honor goes to true freshman Gabe Marks, proving that the passing attack is multi-faceted.

"The one thing about Mike's offense is that he spreads his catches out between his receivers," said Kelly. "Marquess is obviously one of the most talented kids in the country, but you can't solely focus on him."

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich calls the Washington State defense "similar to ours", keying in on the different fronts they run, switching between three and four man fronts.

What that allows them to do is pressure the passer more effectively than in past years. Last year, the Cougars, with largely the same personnel, sacked the passer just 17 times all season, this year they've already done it 14 times.

Most of that pressure has come from senior Travis Long who leads the nation in sacks with 6.5, including two more quarterback hits.

"He's an unbelievable player. We need to know where he is at all times," Helfrich said of Long.

Helfrich says that as a whole the defense "tackles very well and plays really hard. "


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