Staying focused

PULLMAN--The Oregon Ducks, a pre-season favorite to capture the Pac-10 crown, find themselves in unfamiliar water this week as they prepare for <b>Mike Price's</b> Washington State Cougars.

The Webfeet are actually considered underdogs to a team that was largely dismissed by the so-called experts when the season began.

In an improbable role reversal, it's WSU coming into the game controlling their destiny while Oregon is scrambling to stay in the championship race.

"With every win we know we're going to a better bowl," Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser said. "We're where we expected to be. We expected to be here last year and I think other teams are kind of surprised."

The 6-1 Ducks have struggled on defense this season, but their secondary, led by Rashad Bauman and Steve Smith is sound --- a fact not lost on Gesser.

"They (Oregon) have good cornerbacks that are game tested and aware of what they need to do when they're on the field," Gesser said. "We just have to find a way to cause some confusion and make some plays."

The Cougs will also have to win the turnover battle, something they've been able to do so far this season, says Price.

"I want us to come out and play hard and limit our turnovers," Price said. "They (Oregon) have a tremendous offense and a good defense and their players think they're good. They have a great spirit and enthusiasm and we can't let that turn into a victory for them."

Another key will be containing receiver/return man Keenan Howry, who last week had people scrambling for the record books as he produced 338 all-purpose yards, including 186 yards and a TD on punt returns.

"Everyone knows about Kennan, we recruited him very hard and we were disappointed that we didn't get him, but he's everything we thought he would be and more," Price said.

While Duck QB Joey Harrington was the early front-runner in the Heisman race there's speculation that he may not even be the best quarterback in the conference as Gesser has statistically out performed him, but Gesser knows all that counts are wins.

"I really don't care about that kind of stuff," Gesser said. "I can't control what their offense does or what our defense does, all I can do is control our offense."

"Coming into the Oregon game last year we knew we had to win out in order to go to a bowl," Gesser said. "But it's like Coach (Price) has always said, ‘It isn't the best team that always wins, it's the guy and the team that plays the best on Saturday.'"

The Cougs' 7-0 start won't allow them to sneak up on Oregon the way they did last year when the game went into overtime before the heavily favored Ducks pulled it out.

"I think certainly Washington State has our players' attention, they were talking about that in the locker room after the Stanford game," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "Certainly for us every game becomes important and we need to climb back on that saddle and get going."

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