Looking at Oregon against WSU

The 16th ranked Oregon Ducks travel to Pullman, Washington to take on the Washington State Cougars. The Ducks (5-1, 3-1) want to make the hat trick by beating WSU (4-3, 2-2) for the third straight year at Martin Stadium. The game is schduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff. There will be no live television coverage.

LAST WEEK:

If validation was the word of the week after the Oklahoma game, then bounce-back was it after the California game and that is exactly what happened against UCLA. The Duck jumped out early and scored three touchdowns on the first three possessions and never looked back last week in Eugene in a 30-20 win over the Bruins.

Dennis Dixon was roughed up a bit, but still threw for 144 yards on a 10-for-17 effort with two touchdowns and no interceptions. For the fifth game in a row the Ducks found a tall, fast receiver that picked up over 100 yards of receiving. Brian Paysinger, 6-3, 208 had four catches for 105 yards (longest 39) and a touchdown. Jonathan Stewart recorded his fourth 100 yards plus game of the year with 121 yards on 20 carries. Dixon had 69 yards including a long of 34 and Jeremiah Johnson had 66 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Linebacker Blair Phillips was the leading tackler with nine (four solo) while safety J.D. Nelson and end Darius Sanders each had a sack.

KEY INJURIES:

Defensive lineman Cole Linehan (broken foot) - possibly back in four weeks
Defensive lineman Ra'Shon Harris (torn triceps) - maybe back by Portland State game
Linebacker Brent Haberly (broken arm) - season
Cornerback Jackie Bates (broken leg) - season
Fullback Jason Turner (torn ACL) - season
Running back Chris Vincent (torn ankle ligament) - season
Defensive end Victor Filipe (elbow) - out, status unchanged

WHEN OREGON IS ON OFFENSE:

Dixon is the ideal quarterback for Oregon's spread offense. He has shown growth and maturity in his decision making. If the situation calls for him to tuck the ball in and scramble he is capable of breaking long runs as he did against UCLA. His passing has been pinpoint although last week after getting a couple of touch hits, the balls began to flutter rather than having the normal tight spiral. His accuracy on the deep ball has been noticed as being not quite there, but whether that is a result of the receiver not getting to the ball or Dixon making sure the ball was not in danger of being intercepted is unclear.

All of Oregon's scholarship receivers are 6-1 or taller. This week, Garren Strong, Cameron Colvin and Derrick Jones should return to action so the Ducks will have plenty of speed for the long ball. Who will be the next in line to have a 100-yard receiving day? Head Coach Mike Bellotti couldn't answer that question during his weekly media conference, but did indicate it was nice to have so many options that causes opposing defenses problems.

With the Oregon offense though when all else fails, give the ball to Snoop -- Jonathan Stewart. Stewart is averaging 100.5 yards per game this year and if the Fresno State game is taken out of the calculation (one carry for 3 yards and a touchdown) Stewart would be averaging over 120 yards a game running the ball. He, like his teammate Jeremiah Johnson has five touchdowns each this season. Johnson is the second part of the Duck one-two punch when it comes to rushing the ball. Johnson has a 51.3-yard average this season.

One trademark of the Duck offense is the no-huddle and the number of plays Oregon is able to run. So far this season the Ducks have run more plays (421-392) than their opponents despite having less time of possession (27:36-32:02).

WHEN WSU HAS THE BALL:

The Duck "bend-don't-break" defense has played well this season despite taking some heavy casualties. Oregon is bare-thin when it comes to depth at defensive tackle. Matt Toeaina and David Faaeteete will start and a gimpy Jeremy Gibbs will be rotating in. The defensive end play has been better than expected against the rushing game, but still the rush defense is the sore spot for the Ducks as the are ninth in the Pac-10 against the run at 165.7 yards given up.

Phillips has been very impressive all year long and is the Pac-10's leading tackler (9.5 per game). Kwame Agyeman will be listed as a strong safety in the program but he really is an outside linebacker in the Oregon scheme. A.J. Tuitele is the weakside linebacker, and a tenacious tackler. J.D. Nelson and Patrick Chung are big hitters out of the safety positions while Walter Thurmond and Jairus Byrd have been solid at the corners even if they have given up a number of pass interference calls to avoid opponents scoring touchdowns.

Against the Cougars, the Ducks want to stop any running attack from getting started. Oregon feels the Cougars will throw deep often and the test will be if the Ducks can put enough pressure on Alex Brink and if the secondary can disguise enough coverage to cause confusion for the WSU signal caller and Eugene native.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Matt Evenson took over from Paul Martinez last week after a missed point after attempt. Martinez has been bothered by a lingering injury but Evenson filled in nicely by hitting 22-yard 3-pointer in the fourth quarter of the UCLA game.

Aaron Knowles has a 38.8-yard average with a long of 48.

Jeremiah Johnson is the punt return specialist but is in hot water for muffing a punt that he did not need to field against UCLA. Johnson fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter of the game that gave the Bruins great field position and led to a score late in the game. Johnson though is too much of a talent to be watching someone else handle the punt return chores for very long.

OREGON CAN WIN IF:

The Ducks will win if they do not turn the ball over or breakdown on protecting Dixon from Mkristo Bruce, the Cougar sack king. The Ducks have been good so far in keeping defensive linemen away from the quarterback by only giving up four sacks all year.

The Oregon offense may let the aggressiveness of the Cougar defense work in their favor, as the Ducks are fond of using misdirection and a short passing game. Washington State fans may dread seeing Jordan Kent back on the field and posing a deep threat. Last year Kent scored his first touchdown in his organized football career in Pullman on a 68-yard bomb from Dixon.

WSU has let good running backs have big days. Last week Marshawn Lynch broke out for 152 yards and in week one of the season, Auburn's Kenny Irons had 183 yards. Oregon's Stewart is as dangerous a back as there is in the country and could have a monster game against a team and fans that were very disappointed when he chose green and yellow over crimson and gray two years ago.

OREGON OUTLOOK:

Oregon still has a chip on its shoulder. It was snubbed last year by the BCS and then lost a heart breaker to Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl. That was bad enough, but when the Ducks won a controversial game at home against the Sooners, the word validation was frequently heard around the Casanova Center. ASU was the first victim of the Ducks rage – but the Quackers were not satisfied. They stumbled badly on the road against California, but the bounce-back against UCLA rinsed the bad taste from their mouth.

Washington State is a tough place for anyone to play and it is the third year in a row that the Ducks have traveled to the Palouse to take care of business. Oregon is ranked No. 16 this week and a win most likely will move them back up the charts. Oregon is still in the midst of making it to a BCS bowl and they can not afford to slip up anywhere along the way.

While the mythical Northwest Championship has never been talked about much in Eugene, the Ducks don't want to leave any doubt of who rules the roost.

OREGON 2-DEEPS

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