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Shootout in the Palouse?


Yes, it could happen, given that Washington State isn't likely to stop Oregon's offense and the Cougars should be able to exploit the Ducks' defense — especially the secondary.

The Ducks (3-0), who have a two-game Pac-12 road losing streak, open their league schedule on the road, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash., against Washington State (1-2), which had high hopes going into Mike Leach's third season as coach.

The Cougars have flopped, somewhat, losing late to Rutgers in Seattle and then being outplayed at Nevada.

Have the Cougs found their mojo, having beaten Portland State 59-21 last week with QB Connor Halliday throwing for 544 yards and six TDs on 41 of 62 passing? Yeah, probably to some extent.

But I'm not sure it'll be enough to beat Oregon, which should romp on WSU's defense.

Here is how Washington State would do it:

• The offensive line protects Halliday throughout the game, and the junior QB — who has thrown five interceptions and often throws erratically — performs almost flawlessly.

• The receivers, through numbers and routes and size, take advantage of the UO secondary, which has four interceptions — three by safety Erick Dargan — but has been beaten in the first three games. Going against the likes of Oregon DBs Dior Mathis and Troy Hill in multi-receiver sets, the Cougs can put Vince Mayle (6-3, 220 pounds), Isiah Myers (6-0, 190), Dom Williams (6-2, 190), Kristoff Williams (6-2, 210) and River Cracraft (6-0, 200) on the field. The Cougars have the luxury of possibly redshirting Gabe Marks, last year's leading receiver.

• The run-challenged Cougs run the ball eight or 10 times with effectiveness — which Leach seemingly never chooses to do.

• And, the WSU defense, which I thought would be better, has to somehow find ways to slow QB Marcus Mariota and the UO offense — literally, if the Ducks get their tempo and execution cranked up. Maybe it's by pounding the Ducks into submission with passing offense. Maybe it's by taking advantage of some turnovers. Maybe Oregon's injury-riddled/somewhat inexperienced offensive line slips up? Maybe something happens with Mariota? As we all know, should the Ducks get rolling, oh boy, it could get ugly.

The key thing: Oregon defense has been enigmatic, so far. The Ducks are giving up 425 yards per game — 275 through the air, and 150 on the ground (3.9 per carry). Oregon has generated six turnovers and 11 sacks, but the Ducks allow 45 percent on third-down conversions and eight scores (six TDs) on 11 opponent red-zone possessions. And, of course, opponent time of possession (about 37 minutes) tops Oregon's (about 23).

At the start of the year, I had the WSU game pegged as a possible upset of the Ducks — especially if Oregon lost to Michigan State. The Ducks didn't lose to Michigan State. I cannot in good conscience pick an upset, but the Cougs could make the game interesting.

THE PICK: Oregon 52, Washington State 31

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