The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Ducks

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED? In this space last week, the goal for Washington State wasn’t must-win. It was must-pound Portland State and regain some swagger heading into this Saturday’s Pacific-12 season opener against Oregon. At first glance, pound the Cougars did.

The score was 59-21, which by anyone’s barometer is a rout. Connor Halliday threw for 544 yards and six touchdowns. All totaled, Washington State passed for 633 yards, a school AND Pac-12 record. The defense posted a shutout in the first half.

Mission accomplished? Not quite.

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It bothers me the way the Cougars played during the third quarter. If you’re a good team, you come out of the locker room up 28-0 ready to stomp on the opponent’s throat, put up a couple more touchdowns and bury the poor suckers. Then you turn the game over to the reserves so they can get some valuable playing experience.

Instead, WSU took its foot off the gas, and Portland State scored touchdowns on its first two possessions to cut the lead to 28-14. WSU eventually regained control and pulled away during the fourth quarter, but it took more from Halliday and Isiah Myers and guys who should have spent the game’s final 15 or 20 minutes yukking it up on the sideline.

Picking nits here? Perhaps, but this is not how good teams play. They play like Oregon, which on Saturday turned a 27-7 halftime lead into 41-7 five minutes into the third quarter, Quarterback Marcus Mariota didn’t play the rest of the game, and was soon joined on the sideline by most of the starters.

Oregon (3-0) at Washington State (1-2)


The kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium.

TV: ESPN

The line: Ducks by 24

The series: Ducks lead, 46-38-7


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About Oregon: If you’re any sort of college football fan, you probably know something about the No. 2 Ducks. They’re an ESPN darling, a team circled by many to play in this year’s college football playoffs.

I covered Wyoming-Oregon for Associated Press last Saturday, and came away with a couple impressions. One, the Ducks’ offense seems like it’s playing faster than ever, which doesn’t seem possible. But with a seasoned quarterback like Mariota, it could be. The Cougars’ defense had better be in peak shape, and seize the rare opportunity to sub when it can.

Two, this is a defense that can be had, or so it seemed against Wyoming. The Cowboys put up plenty of yards, and seemingly had receivers running free and open play after play after play. With Washington State’s flood of receivers, surely someone will be open. The key for the Cougars, as always, won’t be yardage, but how they play in the red zone.

Another trend that could start costing the Ducks is attrition on the offensive line. Oregon lost its fourth potential offensive lineman this season against Wyoming when three-year starting left tackle Jake Fisher suffered a leg injury. Like WSU, injuries are a state secret at Oregon, so there’s no telling who may be back, if anyone, for Saturday’s game.

Oregon has an incredible array of offensive skill players. It starts with Mariota, the Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback who has completed 50 of 71 passes for 806 yards and nine touchdowns this season, and has yet to throw an interception through three games. The Ducks have a terrific trio of running backs in Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman. None of the three have dazzling numbers, as they share playing time.

Oregon averages a robust 6.3 yards per rushing play.

The Ducks have plenty of receiving weapons, too, as six receivers have caught at least seven passes this season. Marshall leads the way with 12 catches for 190 yards. Devon Allen, the NCAA 110-meter hurdles champion, is one to watch.

Oregon has a new defensive coordinator in Don Pellum, who replaces longtime DC Nick Aliotti. The Ducks aren’t horrible by any means defensively; they shut down Michigan State in the second half during their marquee win two weeks ago. Oregon uses a lot of bodies on defense, and the Ducks can bring the heat.

Most relevant to WSU is Oregon’s defensive efficiency against the pass. The Ducks give up 275 passing yards a game, 91st in the country; their pass efficiency defense isn’t much better at No. 61. Oregon also ranks near the bottom of FBS in third down defense.

The series: Last year, the Cougars played a surprisingly competitive game against No. 2 Oregon before losing 62-38 -- WSU trailed 34-24 at halftime before Oregon put away the game with four consecutive second-half touchdowns. Halliday broke a number of records by completing 58 of 89 passes for 557 yards and four touchdowns, numbers that produced some post-game ire from Aliotti. Marshall and Tyner combined to run for 291 yards and five touchdowns.

Oregon has won seven consecutive games against WSU. The Cougars’ last victory over UO came in 2006, a 34-23 decision in Pullman.

Familiar faces: Oregon has truly evolved into a national program, as the Ducks’ roster contains only one Washingtonian, redshirt freshman linebacker Danny Mattingly, brother of former Cougar Andy Mattingly. On the coaching staff is a former Cougar player and coach, Tom Osborne, who heads up UO’s special teams and coaches tight ends.

Notable stat: Since 2000, Washington State is 7-7 in Pac-12 season openers. Under Mike Leach, the Cougars are 1-1, having won last year’s league opener at USC 10-7.

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel twitter.com/nickdaschel.

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