The Dirty Dozen of Cougs vs. Ducks

OPTIMISTS SAY THIS is the game that will turn around Washington State's season, help define Alex Brink's career and ease the heat on Bill Doba. Pessimists say this is the game that will end all hope for a winning season, add one more painful loss to Brink's resume and push Doba one step closer to the exit. Where do I come out on the subject?


Myself, I'm a realist. All I know for certain are the facts, and the facts weigh heavily enough in Oregon's favor to make it clear that the Cougars will have to perform above and beyond anything they've shown to date to avoid a blowout loss at Oregon.

Just look at the stats sheet -- if you dare.

Oregon averages 44 points per game, WSU 28.

Oregon averages 529 total yards per game; WSU 424.

Oregon gives up 23 points per game, WSU 34.

Oregon gives up 408 yards per game, WSU 430.

Obviously, the latter discrepancy is not huge. In fact, one has to wonder if Oregon might trail WSU in defense if the Ducks had faced three Top 25 teams like the Cougars. WSU's three Pac-10 losses came against teams in the top 18; Oregon's one Pac-10 loss came against its only Top 25 foe, No. 2 Cal.

Oregon's glossy offensive numbers are intimidating enough, but the scariest numbers of all revolve around third-down efficiency.

The Ducks convert on third down 48.6 percent of the time, which ranks first in the Pac-10 and 11th in the nation. WSU allows opponents to convert on third down a stunning 56.6 percent of the time. That ranks dead last in the nation (119th) and is way, way, way behind the next-worst mark in the Pac-10, which is 43.0 for Arizona.

Geesh. Let's get to your weekly Dirty Dozen before you get too depressed.

1. View From Pullman: Stormy. Both Seattle dailies, (one was written by this author), have published articles painting a picture of gloom and doom for WSU's season in general and also addressed Doba's job status. That's pretty much inevitable when your team has dropped six straight conference games stretching back to last season and 15 of 20 since the start of the 2005 season.

2. View from Eugene: Sunny, and not just because of Saturday's weather forecast. The Ducks' only loss came in a sensational game with Cal. Senior QB Dennis Dixon might be the best athlete in the Pac-10, and junior RB Jonathan Stewart -- the former Cougar summer football camp participant who rejected WSU at the last minute to go with the Ducks -- has NFL speed, power and size.

3. Scouting Report: The constant blitzing that worked so well against Arizona State pocket passer Rudy Carpenter last week doesn't stand a chance against Oregon. Dixon is too mobile; the Ducks mix in some option; and WSU's inexperienced defense figures to have enough trouble catching their breath against Oregon's no-huddle offense without trying to blitz all the time against Oregon's huge offensive line. The wild card in this game is Brink -- how he reacts in his first-ever game at the stadium where he grew up rooting for the Ducks -- and the health of key receivers Brandon Gibson and Charles Dillon.

4. Betcha Didn't Know: Three Oregon assistant coaches -- associate head coach and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, associate head coach and linebackers coach Don Pellum and running backs coach Gary Campbell -- have coached at Oregon for 19 years or more. Greatwood and Pellum have handled different duties at Oregon and broke up their stays in Eugene by going to different schools, but Campbell has been the running backs coach at Oregon since 1983. He's the Pac-10 leader among football coaches with 25 years at the same school. Greatwood has 23 in the bank, and Washington defensive line coach Randy Hart is next at 20. Doba has served WSU for 19 years (five as head coach). Mike Bellotti is the dean of Pac-10 head coaches with 13 years at Oregon.

5. The Rankings: ranks Oregon ninth and WSU 58th among 119 teams in the NCAA Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). The Associated Press media poll has Oregon at No. 9; the USA Today coaches poll puts Oregon at No. 8.

6. Cougar Trivia Department: Stewart said his fondness for Campbell played a significant role in his decision to pick Oregon over WSU. One can only imagine how the presence of Stewart might have impacted the Cougar program. Stewart leads the Pac-10 in rushing and ranks 10th in the nation with almost 125 yards per game. WSU rushing leader Dwight Tardy averages 71 rushing yards and doesn't return kicks; Stewart is one of the nation's most dangerous kickoff return men.

7. Duck Trivia Department: The Ducks mix and match black, green, white and yellow for various parts of their uniforms and helmets. There's dozens of potential combinations, and Oregon's weekly press release actually lists what combos were used in each game this season. No word yet on whether the Ducks are going to blind us with those electric banana outfits for homecoming Saturday.

8. Alumni Hall: Nike bigwig Phil Knight, a major donor to Oregon athletics, and former distance running great Steve Prefontaine are famous UO alums. Some of the best NFL players out of Oregon were Dan Fouts, Russ Francis, Norm Van Brocklin and Mel Renfro.

9. Cougar Talk: Charles Dillon, comparing Dennis Dixon's passing and running ability with that of a certain Tennessee Titans quarterback: ‘This week we've got Vince Young.'

10. Duck Talk: Jonathan Stewart, asked if he feels pressure playing against WSU, since he's rushed for just 48 yards in two games against the Cougars: ‘There's no such thing as pressure. The only time there's pressure is when you're not doing things right. I feel we're doing everything right in our game plan. I never feel pressure.'

11. Opinion Of The Week: Brink will play well, with or without Gibson, if Dillon and true freshman Jeshua Anderson step up and Michael Bumpus and Jed Collins play their usual games. No matter how much WSU moves the ball against Oregon, however, it won't be enough to offset the speed and skill of Oregon's offense against WSU's defense.

12. And Your Final Score Is: Oregon 51, Washington State 31.

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