The Oregon Ducks (6-1, 1st in Pac-12 North) will host the Washington State Cougars (4-3, 6th in Pac-12 North) at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR. The game will start at 7:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, October 26th, 2019 and be broadcast on ESPN (also streaming on espn.com and the ESPN App).
Like every remaining game, this matchup is crucial for Oregon to remain in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. If the Ducks win out, there is a good chance they’ll find themselves in the Playoff. Maybe more importantly, though, the Ducks can basically wrap up a Pac-12 North title with a win this week.
The Ducks will also be looking to purge one of their biggest demons this week: losing to Wazzu. This semi-rivalry has taken an odd turn, with the Cougars winning the last four matchups after the Ducks took eight straight wins from 2007-2014. Washington State hadn’t accomplished a comparable feat over the Ducks since the early ’80s.
|2018-10-20||Oregon (12)||@||Washington State (25)||Pac-12||L||20||34|
|2017-10-07||Oregon||Washington State (11)||Pac-12||L||10||33|
Last year’s downfall in the Palouse was especially frustrating. Oregon was coming off a fantastic overtime win against the Huskies and had moved up to #12 in the AP Poll (this was the only matchup of the four losses in which the Ducks were ranked). College Gameday was on hand in Pullman for the first time ever, and Wazzu seized victory after the Ducks were held scoreless in the first half.
There are a few more reasons why this streak has a good reason of ending this weekend, as well.
Oregon could win because…
The Cougars are not as good as we thought, and Oregon’s defense is better than we thought.
Entering this season, this was a major red-circle game for Oregon. it was promoted as the biggest home game of the year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if tickets sold as such. Wazzu was poised for a run at the Pac-12 title before one wild night in late September.
Since then, the Cougs have dropped two more games, but the second half of their schedule could do them some favors:
|Aug 31, 2019||(23) Washington State||New Mexico State||Ind||W||58||7|
|Sep 7, 2019||(22) Washington State||Northern Colorado||Non-Major||W||59||17|
|Sep 13, 2019||(20) Washington State||N||Houston||American||W||31||24|
|Sep 21, 2019||(19) Washington State||UCLA||Pac-12||L||63||67|
|Sep 28, 2019||Washington State||@||(19) Utah||Pac-12||L||13||38|
|Oct 12, 2019||Washington State||@||(18) Arizona State||Pac-12||L||34||38|
|Oct 19, 2019||Washington State||Colorado||Pac-12||W||41||10|
|Oct 26, 2019||Washington State||@||(11) Oregon||Pac-12|
|Nov 9, 2019||Washington State||@||California||Pac-12|
|Nov 16, 2019||Washington State||Stanford||Pac-12|
|Nov 23, 2019||Washington State||Oregon State||Pac-12|
|Nov 29, 2019||Washington State||@||Washington||Pac-12|
I’d say the Cougs can win at least three of those remaining games. They’re definitely Holiday Bowl contenders, but with three conference losses, anything better than that is out of their control by now.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. Oregon’s secondary has allowed the fewest passing yards per game and caught the most interceptions per game in the conference. They have still given up only 11.9 points per game, .2 shy of Utah’s 11.7 (and one might argue that the Ducks have faced superior competition, too).
With all that being said, a streak still needs to be broken, and Oregon can’t have another Husky Hangover if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Wazzu could win because…
Mike Leach is a great coach. Media room sarcasms and all, Leach knows what he’s doing.
His Air Raid offense has passed around, over, and through the Ducks in recent years. This fast-paced, pass-first attack forces entire opposing defenses to be aware of what’s going on at all times. It also opens up the run game, as well—Duck fans may remember the Cougs rushing for six touchdowns in their 2016 matchup. Sophomore running back Max Borghi leads the conference in yards from scrimmage (840) and yards per carry (7.3).
They don’t have Luke Falk (opens in a new tab)” href=”https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/players/luke-falk-1.html” target=”_blank”>Luke Falk or Gardner Minshew (opens in a new tab)” href=”https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/players/gardner-minshew-1.html” target=”_blank”>Gardner Minshew at quarterback anymore, but Junior Anthony Gordon is doing just fine in his first year as the starter. Gordon leads the Pac-12 in pass attempts (347), pass completions (246), passing yards (2,918), passing touchdowns (29), total yards (3,018), total touchdowns (29), total yards per play (8.2), and total plays (369).
The matchup between Washington State’s offense and Oregon’s defense will be most entertaining, but it’s on the Ducks to get their offense rolling. Said offense worked to perfection in crunch time against Washington last week, but it took a while to get there.
Tight end Jacob Breeland, Justin Herbert‘s favorite target, is out for the season with a knee injury. Backup tight end Cam McCormick is also out with an ankle injury. During the week, wide receiver Brenden Schooler entered the transfer portal unexpectedly, too.
Once again, this puts pressure on the rest of the receiving corps to step up. Mycah Pittman and Juwan Johnson are the obvious choices to do so, but Spencer Webb, Johnny Johnson III, and Jaylon Redd all stepped up with big catches last week. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to score or be productive. My point is that they have proven themselves. Doing it in last week’s environment is a major confidence-booster.
On defense, defensive end Gus Cumberlander is already out for the season with a knee injury. Defensive backs Deommodore Lenoir and Nick Pickett were both taken out of the Washington game at different points, but they will be expected to play, even if their roles are limited. The same goes for linebacker Troy Dye, who broke his hand during the game, taped it up, and continued to play.
Keys to the Game
Defending the middle of the field
Oregon trusts its cornerbacks to cover guys one-on-one. Sure, Thomas Graham Jr. got beat deep last week and Lenoir might be limited, but Oregon’s man coverage won the game last week and the coaching staff needs to keep faith in their DBs, because Leach will throw the kitchen sink at Oregon’s linebacking corps across the middle of the field. He is a master of fitting the right routes against different defenses. The phrase “bend, don’t break” was more of a Nick Aliotti philosophy than an Andy Avalos (opens in a new tab)” href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhPZ3aF1CAk” target=”_blank”>Andy Avalos one prior to last weekend, but Oregon has to be OK with quick, short gains to prevent the deep ball against Wazzu.
Limiting Eliminating turnovers
The Ducks forced zero turnovers last week, but they also conceded zero. The Ducks can’t afford to cough up valuable possessions against the Cougars—they’ve given up two or more turnovers in three of those last four losses to WSU. Turnovers are how favorites lose momentum and, more importantly, games.
Oregon’s offense scored a touchdown every time they crossed midfield against Washington (not including that gasping six-play drive at the end of the first half). The Ducks have to keep up that kind of production if they find themselves needing to outscore Washington State. This obviously boils down to playcalling, but execution is the real key.
Speaking of playcalling, I need to mention two specific plays that were simply fantastic.
The first was Spencer Webb’s touchdown catch on the opening drive. Check out the run fake and second-level blocking that freezes all three UW linebackers:
The second was Mycah Pittman’s touchdown catch on fourth down. An absolutely beautiful screen play that required perfect blocking:
Of course, Oregon’s playcalling has been under close scrutiny this year after the Auburn loss. However, last week showed us what can happen when the Ducks successfully establish the run game, which they undoubtedly did with Cyrus Habibi-Likio in the third quarter.
The spread is two touchdowns, and that’s been my prediction since before I even checked the line. I’m sticking with it. Both Leach and Cristobal are willing to sacrifice field goals for touchdown opportunities, and whatever #Pac12AfterDark does to this game will still result in a 35-21 Ducks victory.
Here’s one prediction I know will come true: people will leave early. Look, I know, I hate it too. As a student, I’m ashamed that half the section will be gone by the fourth quarter, but it’s a night game… on parents’ weekend… that the Ducks are double-digit favorites to win (knock on wood). It’s gonna happen. I’ll stay to the end because there’s no place I’d rather be, but I can’t speak for the rest of my colleagues, nor the countless adults that are guilty of leaving early. Go figure.