Washington State faces an Oregon team that stands 3-2 and is facing a crisis of confidence on both sides of ball

FIVE WEEKS AGO, a Washington State upset over Oregon in their house appeared unlikely -- but recent events have rendered a Washington State win far more possible. Indeed, Oregon has struggled on both sides of the ball and has looked anything but invincible this season through five games. So is another WSU celebration like the one above on tap Saturday in Eugene?

It depends. Washington State had multiple opportunities to step on No. 24 Cal and put that game away but failed. Doing the same at Oregon will result in a Duck win, and another great opportuniy squandered.

But the 62-20 thrashing at the hands of Utah two weeks ago was Oregon’s worst loss since the Cougs trampled the Ducks 55-16 way back in 2003. So are Duck players and fans dealing with a confidence problem coming into Saturday's tilt? You bet they are.

WSU is not about to catch the two-loss Ducks napping Saturday but if Luke Falk and the o-line can get the Cougar offense firing early, Oregon could well experience the same kind of shell shock the Ducks suffered from against Utah.
Cougars (2-2) vs Ducks (3-2)

3:00 p.m. PT

Autzen Stadium (54,000)

Pac-12 Network

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Oregon by 17

Oregon won 38-31 in Pullman last year.

Oregon leads 47-38-7.

Cougs 28, Ducks 27

QBs Vernon Adams, Jeff Lockie, and Taylor Alie: Oregon is in a legitimate quarterback conundrum. Adams is still battling a broken finger on his throwing hand – but he was struggling even before then. Oregon's offense is not inordinately complex, but Adams was running an even more simplified version of it. Lockie can run the complete offense, but lacks accuracy on longer throws and does not have the exceptional scrambling and playmaking ability of Adams. Alie is the youngest of the three, and seems to be being groomed for the future. The three have combined for just nine passing touchdowns in five games, well off the pace the Ducks are accustomed to.

RB Royce Freeman: Until an elite quarterback emerges, Freeman is the Ducks’ featured offensive weapon. He is Oregon's leading rusher and second leading receiver, accounting for 761 yards of offense and eight touchdowns. Against Colorado, Oregon ran the ball 62 times — its highest total in two seasons -- with Freeman getting 27 carries (163 yards).

Oregon's offense is nothing new at this point, and that may be part of the problem. Teams have become accustomed to of this offense and are less intimidated by its speed. The system remains premised on maximized defenders’ mistakes and minimizing mistakes by the quarterback. It has become clear Oregon does not utilize a complete passing playbook in its base. They do not throw slants, nor other layered progression passes in traffic. This appears specifically to try and avoid interceptions, and allow the quarterback to focus on his zone read execution. The passes are typically either quick throws to receivers who are not pressed in pre-snap coverage, or delayed play-action throws to open receivers after they have cleared traffic.

Everything for Oregon keys off the effectiveness of the zone running game. Teams having success against Oregon have learned to stay home and let the plays come to them. When they tackle cleanly, sooner or later they set up a passing down and that is where Oregon has always struggled (and even more so this season). Their playbook operates on deception and does not translate well when a talented opponent knows what’s coming. Pro level passers like Marcus Mariota frequently got them out of trouble in these situations (it can be argued Mariota effectively won three games last season) but Adams and Lockie do not possess his kind of talent. The two QBs have looked utterly lost when asked to make pro-style throws and likely do not rep them much in practice. Without an elite level passer/scrambler, the Ducks must simply be viewed as just another spread option team.

Key Stat
Seven Interceptions: Lockie and Adams have thrown seven picks in five games this year. Marcus Mariota threw only four all of last season.


Players to Know
DL DeForest Buckner: The 6-7, 300-pound senior is the Ducks best defensive prospect, but is facing regular double teams and it’s been working for Duck opponents. Buckner has lacked another serious pass rushing threat to help bring pressure and make teams pay.

FS Reggie Daniels: The most experienced member of a struggling secondary, but also one of its most surprising. Daniels does not have an interception this year and had only one last year. He exemplifies a defense and team that just is not breaking off big plays like they are used to in past seasons.

Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum has largely designed a defense to work in conjunction with their offensive strategy: minimize mistakes and maximize turnovers. They play a lot of soft zone and are accustomed to defending a lead. In the Oregon games I’ve watched this season, they are vulnerable to exactly the kind of passing plays they do not practice against regularly -- layered progression passes and interior routes have worked well against them. While lack of reps might be part of the story, the truth is the Ducks are willing give up some of these plays in exchange for the increased opportunity for turnovers.

This just in: Oregon does not defend good progression passing well. They have been willing to make that tradeoff until now because they generally had leads. The Ducks welcome teams throwing into the teeth of their zone, expecting they'll get turnovers eventually. But Oregon’s secondary has looked particularly weak in ‘15 and they have not had the support of the offense backing them up. The situation spun out of control against Utah, when the Ducks became the team facing the deficit and started turning over the ball themselves. Oregon has not faced a collection of receivers this deep this season as they will against Washington State. If WSU can mostly control the line of scrimmage and Falk is on the money, it should be a highly productive day. Spread offenses have put up good numbers against the Ducks in the past and this defense looks to be the weakest in some time.

Key Stat
A 63.2 percent completion percentage against: The Ducks have done a good job minimizing the YAC, but the throws are being completed. They have also given up 16 passing touchdowns as compared to the 21 they surrendered all last season.

Kicker Aiden Schneider is a perfect 8-for-8 this season, and missed only one field goal last year. He is pretty much automatic, but has a career long of just 42 yards.

-All the Cougs really need to do to win this game is to win the turnover battle, but they do need to win it. The seams in the zone are there, but Luke Falk cannot hesitate and must be accurate with his throws.

-The Cougs need to dust off another soul crushing disaster against Cal – coming out flat against Oregon would be the worst possible outcome. On the other hand, a victory against Oregon would more than make up for it, but the Cougs need to rebound. Last year, mid-season depression set in spiraling into four straight losses, each by greater amounts.

-The offensive line that looked so stellar against Rutgers looked decidedly soft at Cal. Whatever needs to be done – whether personnel moves, keeping a running back in on more snaps to block, kicking the starting five in the pants – it should have taken place this week in practice.

-Washington State has played better on the road under Leach and this is the perfect opportunity for WSU – Oregon still has loads of cache even after a down start and a crimson victory in Autzen would energize the fan base to the nth degree.

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