Oregon 101: Duck for Cover

OREGON HAS ROLLED through its early season schedule like a steamroller, winning by an average of 35 points. Opponents have mostly been less than daunting and all four games have been at Autzen Stadium -- but the initial results seem to rule out 2012 being a Chip Kelly rebuilding year. On top of that, Duck fans are expected to come in droves to Seattle when Oregon takes on Wazzu Saturday night.

Cougars (2-2) vs Ducks (4-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Century Link Stadium (67,000)

TELEVISION:
ESPN 2

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Oregon -29.5

LAST MEETING:
2011, Oregon won 43-28.

THE SERIES:
Oregon leads the series 44-38.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Oregon 49, WSU 20

THE DUCKS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Marcus Mariota, QB: The freshman has stepped right in for the departed Deron Thomas like a veteran. He has completed 70 percent of his passes for 934 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first four games – though he's also fumbled the ball three times.
Kenjon Barner & DeAnthony Thomas, RB: Probably the most productful backfield in the conference. Barner is the workhorse (102 yard per game average) Thomas is the change of pace back, better receiving option and might be the fastest player the Cougs will see this season.

Overview
The Duck offense is defined by its potent running game (304 rushing yards per game). The Ducks essentially utilize just two running plays: inside zone read and outside zone read. But they disguise the plays very well and run them with a sudden burst to the hole. The idea is the freeze the linebackers and defensive ends in a kind of play-action which gives the blocks time to set. The plays go for big yards if the linebackers/defensive ends guess wrong. Passing plays run in the same mold generally leave the secondary without linebacker support.

Strategy
It's all about taking chances and not getting burned. You have to try and take something away from a top-notch offense and stopping the run is essential for WSU and is likely to be the primary focus. As good as Mariota has looked as a first-year starter, WSU needs to try and make the freshman beat them. Nobody has put any serious amount of pressure on the Ducks' quarterback all season. Delayed blitzes could be effective, and the Cougs might just charge into the zones the running back selects as well.

Key Statistic
29 Touchdowns: Oregon has scored the second most touchdowns in the country, 16 rushing, 11 passing, and two more on defense. Their drives have rarely stalled out once in rhythm.

THE DUCKS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Michael Clay, WLB: The fastest of Oregon's linebackers, the 220-pound Clay challenged for the conference lead in tackles last year and leads the Ducks in tackles in 2012.

Overview
Nick Alliotti runs a pretty basic 4-3, does not take a lot of chances, but exploits the situation when the opponent is forced to take theirs. Their defensive line is solid and will be looking to control the line of scrimmage against WSU similar to the way BYU did in the opener.

Strategy
Connor Halliday needs to make better decisions from start to finish and the offensive line has to protect him. Oregon lost senior free safety John Boyett for the season which did weaken their secondary. With WSU's speed at receiver, passing options should be available, but they will be small and brief unless the o-line does a better job.

Key Statistic
Average first half points surrendered: 5.7. Oregon's first half defense has been solid. Combined with their potent offense, the first three games were essentially over by halftime. Last week against Arizona, it was 13-0 in the third quarter but the Duck defense ultimately pitched a shutout in the 49-0 win.

THE DUCKS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Rob Beard has made only two out of four attempts this season, including misses for 29 and 35 yards. Punter Jackson Rice was a Ray Guy finalist last year, but is rarely used. He is averaging a meager 38.5 yards this year, but he's rarely kicked with a full field in front of him.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-WSU's offense has steadily improved in many areas. If the offensive line can cope, the potential to initiate a shootout does exist in this game.

- Oregon was clearly the superior team this past Saturday but Arizona also blew chance after chance to put points on the board and make a game of it, and eventually Oregon blew past them in the second half. Washington State must instead capitalize on each and every scoring opportunity if they want to pull off the upset of the year in college football.

-The level of consistency in the Chip Kelly era is noteworthy. Oregon has lost only six games in three seasons, four by BCS bowl teams and two conference games (Stanford in '09 and USC last year). The average record of a team beating Oregon under Kelly is 12-2, by an average margin of victory of eight points.

-A perfect storm may have to take place for the Cougs. Just about every college football team has at least one game where they just don't get up for it and WSU fans will be hoping the Ducks will be overly complacent this week. Oregon has won with relative ease for the last month while playing every game at home, and the tape they will watch on WSU, particularly last week's against Colorado, will give them a lot of confidence. WSU is rightfully a huge underdog in this contest, but does have the talent to give themselves a puncher's chance.

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