WSU coach Mike Leach called out his players for their lack of mental toughness following the 52-24 loss to Oregon State. I'd be worried that the Ducks are going to try and exploit that and will be trying to get the Cougs to start hanging their heads before the end of the first quarter. I know the reason they "play the games" is because every Saturday it's proven there are upsets, but I'm having a lot of trouble seeing how WSU makes a serious run at Oregon.
The best case scenario I see is that WSU makes a game of it for a half, and finishes with their dignity intact – like they did last year. But that game was not in Eugene.
Any silver linings? Sure. Before the game against Washington, the combined record of the Ducks' first five opponents was 11-14. They had much more trouble with UW than they had with anyone previously and it was still a game headed into the fourth quarter. The Ducks scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to comfortably win 45-24, holding the Huskies scoreless in the final frame.
And the Ducks were not completely invincible in those five games despite the final tallies. Apparently, lowly Colorado found a flaw when it played Oregon on Oct. 5. WSU coaches might want to take a look at the video, as the Buffaloes worked over the Duck defense for more than 300 yards during the first half.
This is a critical week in Washington State's 2013 season. Not that the Cougars will win Saturday in Eugene. But somehow they need to emerge from the game feeling good about themselves and with the big picture in mind. There's still a lot to accomplish in 2013. A bowl game remains a possibility with WSU at 4-3 and with five games left in the regular season.
This is an opportunity for the Cougars to show they learned something from the Oregon State experience. Show us that when the going gets tough, you're not going to throw in the towel. That you're not going to start trying to force plays that aren't there. That every snap means something, whether you're up 7-0 or down 38-3.
If the Cougars are going to make something of this season, they have to deal with adversity. Because this past Saturday night wasn't the last time they'll face it in 2013. Not by a long shot.
One other thing to note: If the Cougars can come out of Oregon feeling somewhat good about themselves, they're going to have a lot of time to work on physical improvements. After Saturday, WSU's only game during the next 27 days is Arizona State on Halloween. The Cougs have a bye on Oct. 26, and another on Nov. 9.
This might be the best Oregon offense ever, and that's saying something given what the Ducks have done in recent years. Nationally, Oregon is ranked No. 1 in points scored (341), No. 2 in total offense (630.5 yards), No. 3 in rushing yards (324.0 yards) and No. 21 in passing yards (306.5 yards). What's numbing is those stats could be larger if the Ducks weren't geared down during the second half in most of their 2013 games.
What separates these Ducks from previous Oregon offensive units is quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy frontrunner is deserving, as he's completing 100 of 165 passes for 1,724 yards for 17 touchdowns, while running for 426 yards and eight scores.
The most chilling stat heading into the game also involves Mariota. Washington State's Connor Halliday leads the country with 13 interceptions, while Mariota has yet to throw a pick this season. Mariota has thrown an Oregon record 233 passes without an interception, his last one coming against Stanford last season.
Chilling, part II: The Ducks have played without De'Anthony Thomas the past three games. He's likely to return Saturday, yet another very speedy runner for the Cougars to defend. Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner all are running backs capable of breaking open a game.
The Ducks top receivers are Josh Huff (27 catches, 552 yards, 5 TD) and Bralon Addison (27 for 502, 6 TD). Emerging of late is freshman tight end John Mundt (10 for 181, 2 TD).
Statistically, the Ducks are as stout as any team in the Pac-12. Nationally, Oregon is No. 18 in total defense (338.7 yards), and most importantly against Washington State's Air Raid, No. 5 in pass efficiency defense. The Ducks are No. 2 in the country in turnover margin at plus-10.
The series: In what was one of the more entertaining games of the 2012 season, Oregon defeated the Cougs 51-26 in Seattle. Washington State went toe-to-toe with the Ducks for a half, trailing 23-19 at halftime. But then Oregon went on a third-quarter blitz with three touchdowns to pull away. Statistically, it was respectable, as the Ducks outgained the Cougars 469-402 in yardage, though they held WSU to negative 8 yards rushing.
Oregon has a six-game winning streak over WSU. The Cougs last win came in 2006, a 34-23 win in Pullman. WSU's last win in Eugene came in 2003, a 55-16 thumping of No. 21 Oregon. The Ducks lead the series 45-38-7.
Familiar faces: There's no better indication that Oregon has taken its program national than a check of the Ducks roster and find only one Washingtonian, Spokane freshman Danny Mattingly. He is the brother of former Cougar defenseman Andy Mattingly. As for coaches, veteran tight ends/special teams assistant Tom Osborne is a former Coug receiver and graduate assistant coach.
Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel