Jason Says: Ducks ready to change script in WSU play
So, who expects Oregon to come out flat and fall way behind and lose Saturday's 7:30 p.m. game against Washington State at Autzen Stadium?
Not me, because the 2018 scenario won't repeat itself, as it pertains to beating Washington in an emotional game and then playing the Cougars. Now, the Ducks could still lose, as Mike Leach's team seems to have settled its defense situation and possesses another potent "Air Raid" offense led by quarterback Anthony Gordon.
But a Cougar win doesn't look likely to me. I'd say the WSU winning streak against the Ducks ends at four.
The Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) have a special season going on. This feels like a championship team. The Ducks seem to have championship parts — a senior quarterback playing well (Justin Herbert, 21 TDs, one pick), a solid offensive line, playmakers chipping in and a great and deep defense — with championship attitude and moxie.
Last year, the Ducks beat Washington in overtime, then laid an egg in Pullman the next week, rallying but losing 34-20. Oregon followed that with another (bad) road loss, at Arizona.
UO coach Mario Cristobal was visibly emotional after the 35-31 win at Washington last weekend, just as he had been last year at Autzen Stadium after the win against the Huskies. You see it in college football — a big, emotional win one week, a clunker the next, a phenomenon which I've never fully understood or wanted to concede happens, despite colleagues always telling me it's a thing. Teams have only 12 games, why can't they be highly motivated and play well every week?
But championship teams do figure things out and win, given such a scenario, and I think the Ducks have set Washington State in their sights.
Leach has figured out how to beat the Ducks in four consecutive years, and he says it could have been five, had officials called pass interference on Dior Mathis as the Cougs drove late in Pullman in 2014.
The script has been similar: Good quarterback play for WSU (Luke Falk, Gardner Minshew), good running games (James Williams, Max Borghi), a bevy of receivers, a good-enough defense, and Leach leading the way — although Oregon played the Cougs without QB Vernon Adams Jr. in 2015, and then weaker Oregon teams couldn't challenge the Cougs the next two seasons.
The big matchup Saturday: UO's defense vs. WSU's offense.
The Cougars (4-3, 1-3) can, obviously, pass the ball well again. Gordon averages 425.9 yards per game, having completed 70.9% and thrown for 29 TDs, with seven interceptions. He had the epic nine-TD night in the Cougar's meltdown loss, 67-63, to UCLA on Sept. 21.
The Cougars seemingly can spring somebody open on every play; it's amazing to watch at times. Easop Winston Jr. leads the long list of pass catchers with 47 receptions, 578 yards and nine TDs.
And, I think Borghi, the sophomore running back, is one of the Pac-12's best players. He's averaging 73.1 yards rushing (7.3 per carry), has caught 36 passes for 328 yards, and has nine total TDs. Can't forget how he juked past Oregon linebacker Troy Dye last year.
The Washington State offensive line has some experience and usually provides Gordon with time to throw.
But, I think the Ducks are well-equipped to slow down the Cougars. The Ducks pressure the quarterback, play different fronts, tackle well and cover receivers well. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir suffered an injury against the Huskies, but if he can't play, the Ducks still sport the likes of Jevon Holland, Nick Pickett, Thomas Graham Jr., Verone McKinley III, Brady Breeze and Mykael Wright in the secondary.
And, UO defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has proven his worth. The Ducks held five consecutive opponents under 10 points and then shut out the Huskies in the fourth quarter last weekend.
It'll be a challenge for Leach, although the Air Raid guru helped the Cougars put 47 points on Avalos' Boise State defense in 2017 (a 47-44, three-overtime win). QBs Falk and Tyler Hilinksi combined to go 49 of 67 for 433 yards and three TDs. But, Boise State beat WSU 31-28 in 2016, even with Falk 55 of 71 for 480 yards and four TDs.
The Ducks are coming off their gutty win at Washington. They fell behind 28-14, only to rally, led by Herbert and the O-line. Linebacker Troy Dye broke a thumb, and kept playing. Avalos' defense stood strong, despite giving up four touchdowns. The Huskies moved upfield late, but the Ducks stopped QB Jacob Eason & Co. on fourth down (although Wright could have easily been called for pass interference).
Herbert has been good, so far, and the UO running game has improved with CJ Verdell, Travis Dye and now Cyrus Habibi-Likio carrying the ball behind the O-line. Receivers and tight ends continue to develop, and newcomers Spencer Webb and Mycah Pittman scored touchdowns against UW to add to the depth.
I'm not seeing the UO offense being stymied too much by the Cougars, but I'm also envisioning Gordon, Borghi and the Air Raid putting up some yards and points. Like or dislike him, Leach can really coach offense, and his team seemed to regain some swagger in thumping Colorado 41-10 last weekend.
If the Cougars get rolling, it could be a fun night of football at Autzen.
I think it will be a fun night of football, especially for the home team.
The pick: Oregon 38, Washington State 31
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