Oregon 101: Quick start key to Cougs' chances

SO MANY OF Washington State's troubles began last year when they played the Oregon Ducks. WSU dropped a heartbreaker at home when they couldn't hold a fourth quarter lead and watched Kellen Clemens an UO drop 27 points on them in the final 15 minutes. This would be the recipe for disaster which has haunted them ever since.

Though the Ducks are ranked No. 10 in the BCS poll, they are also the latest in a string of seemingly beatable teams to come to Pullman when you consider their inexperience at quarterback. The question is what will be different about this game than the previous six when it comes to playing smart and finishing in the fourth quarter.

THE DUCKS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Dennis Dixon, QB: Has a style very similar to Texas QB Vince Young. Runs like a deer, but throws with good velocity too. Still a bit raw in his command of the offense, but is quite capable when healthy.

Cougs (3-6) vs. Ducks (8-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7:15 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium

TELEVISION:
Live on FSN

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

THE LINE:
Ducks by 4

THE SERIES:
Oregon leads 38-37-7. The Ducks won 41-38 last year in Pullman. The year before in Eugene it was WSU 55-16.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 38, Oregon 35

Brady Leaf, QB: Injuries and transfers finally allowed Ryan Leaf's little brother Brady to break through the Ducks' QB logjam. Though Dixon is still the starter with Clemens out, it was Leaf who led the Ducks to victory in OT against Cal. Expect them to split time on Saturday.

Terrence Whitehead, RB: A solid multi-purpose back whose rushing stats don't do him justice. Whitehead leads the team with 507 rushing yards to go with 370 receiving yards. Lacks the power of super-recruit Jonathon Stewart, but his experience and pass-catching abilities have him as the clear starter.

Demetrius Williams, WR: The speedy veteran is among the conference elite with 941 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. The Duck receiving corps drops off considerably after him though, so consistent double coverage is recommended.

Overview: New coordinator Gary Crowton has made a few tweaks, such as a no tight end set where Tim Day will instead come out of the slot. Ultimately, the package looks different but the overall system hasn't changed in the sense that the offense remains all about efficiency. A huge offensive line protects their quarterback and thrive on quick, high-percentage passes. The Ducks throw for the vast majority of their yards, but have a lot of pride in their running backs too.

Strategy: The inexperience under center offers some hope, but overall this offense is poised to pick the Cougars apart. They do everything pretty well so you can't afford to take a lot of chances on shutting down one particular aspect of the offense. The key word here is disruption. Keep their running game in check and force the Ducks into third and long, where they are most vulnerable. Pressure their QB as much as possible but don't overpursue and hope the throwing accuracy takes a dive. Cold Pullman weather could lend some assistance in this respect.

THE DUCKS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Anthony Trucks, LB: Trucks is an active playmaker and leads the team in tackles with 68. Not especially large, Trucks makes up for it with his quickness and ability to time snap counts. A blitz specialist, he also leads the team with ten sacks.

Haloti Ngata, DT: An absolute mountain. Listed at 340 pounds but is probably 360. Blessed with outstanding speed and quickness for a lineman of any size, has a punt block to his credit this season. A probable first day selection in the NFL draft, Ngata is third on the team with 49 tackles this season.

Devan Long, DE: The brother of former Coug Rien Long, Devan has harassed Pac-10 quarterbacks just like his brother did. Has five sacks this season and 10.5 tackles for a loss.

Overview: The Ducks have done a great job containing opposing quarterbacks this year. They have limited them to 5.9 per throw and have generated 16 interceptions. This is largely the result of an outstanding pass rush and an experienced secondary. Run defense has given them trouble at times.

Strategy: The weather will be very cold and possibly wet. Run the ball, manage the clock, and keep the Ducks' offense freezing on the sidelines as long as possible.

THE DUCKS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Paul Martinez is solid, but their punting game needs work. Kick return and kick coverage units are decent.

INJURY REPORT

WSU: MLB Will Derting (knee) will play, WR Michael Bumpus (ankle), WR Brandon Gibson (hip), WR Marty Martin (concussion), TE Jesse Taylor (stinger) are all out.
Oregon: QB Kellen Clemens (out for the year, ankle), CB Jackie Bates (questionable, ankle), S Patrick Chung (probable)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite conventional wisdom, it's hard to believe the Cougs could actually be due for a letdown after losing six straight. With the exception of USC game, the Cougs have been in every game right until the end but somehow just haven't secured any wins. Given the way they've practiced this week, WSU will probably come out of the gate firing. Good thing, because if they are to win, they must find success early.

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