Cougs take on Ducks in potential Seattle bloodbath
After on epic collapse of monumental proportions against the hapless Colorado Buffaloes, the Washington State Cougars attempt to salvage any sense of pride against the Oregon Ducks this Saturday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Matchup: Oregon Ducks (-30.5) at Washington St.(+30.5)
Venue: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, WA)
Game Time, TV: 7:30 PM (PDT), ESPN
Date: Saturday, September 29, 2012
Weather: 70 High, 50 Low, Cloudy
Team Records: #2 UO (4-0) WSU (2-2)
Washington State’s annual Seattle Game has created a stir in recent years among Cougar faithful because of it’s designation as a home game, but is it really a home game?
The easy answer is no.
The game is vital for recruiting, alumni, and representing the university, but for a football team struggling to find itself on it’s home turf — let alone a home-away-from-home turf — facing the Ducks in Seattle feels an awful lot like a road game destined for disaster.
Game Notes / How They Matchup
The Ducks and Cougars enter their second Pac-12 contest coming off of very different results.
Last week, the Ducks handled No. 22 Arizona 49-0 and continued to show their dominance while the Cougars gave up a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter, to previously defeated Colorado, eventually falling in the waning seconds to the Buffaloes 35-34.
Last season the Cougars played with the Ducks late into the second half, trailing just 15-10 at halftime in Eugene. But, After cutting the lead to 29-20 on a Marshall Lobbestael 24-yard touchdown pass to Jared Karstetter late in the third quarter, the human highlight reel, De’Anthony Thomas immediately answered with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and the route was on.
The Ducks eventually won the game 43-28 behind Thomas’ 262 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Thomas will, once again, create havoc on a Cougars defense that has had trouble stopping anyone this season. The Cougars will attempt to counter the Ducks’ vaunted attack with an offense that showed evident signs of life last week, but faltered down the stretch against Colorado.
In a Savannah State-type spread, the Ducks are favored by 30.5, a staggering margin considering many people had this game circled on their schedule before the season began.
The Mike Leach versus Chip Kelly matchup was intended to create national attention with their high scoring offenses, but in 2012, the hype has died down as the Cougars have failed to scratch the high expectations that came with their high profile head coaching hire.
What to Watch: Washington St.
When a team scores 30-plus points and loses, all eyes point towards the defense. Last week, that was exactly the case as the Cougars were finally able to move the football and put sizable points on the board, but the defense was unable to handle a very mediocre Buffaloes offense that doesn’t have a single notable playmaker.
How will defensive coordinator Mike Breske alleviate the big plays against a Ducks offense known for just that? The good sign is that the Cougars, before last week, had been relatively stout against opposing rushing attacks but they’ll be facing a ground-game giant in the form of Kenyon Barner and the previously mentioned Thomas.
The defense is going to have to make considerable strides in a short amount of time if it wants to hold Oregon to any sort of respectable offensive output.
On offense, Connor Halliday will most likely make his third consecutive start at QB as Jeff Tuel has been reported to still be taking second team reps this week. Halliday was up and down last week, throwing for 401 yards and four touchdowns but only completed 32-of-60 passes and was intercepted two times.
For the offense to be effective against a swarming Oregon defense, Halliday has to make better decisions in the passing department and considerably improve his completion percentage.
What to Watch: Oregon
Oregon hasn’t missed a stride from last season despite losing starting QB Darren Thomas and Heisman candidate RB LaMichael James. The Ducks have put up at least 42-points in each of their four contests including a 63-point output against Tennessee Tech and a 57-point crushing of Arkansas State.
Meager opponents, but the fact that they dropped 49-points on a nationally ranked Arizona team shows how dominant this team really is. Led by freshman QB Marcus Mariota, who has thrown for 10 touchdowns already this season, the offense is, once again, on tops in the nation.
The offense was never a question heading into the season and if the Ducks had concerns it was on the defensive side of the ball. So much for that.
Last week against Arizona, the Ducks shutout a Rich Rodriguez offense that is known for it’s explosiveness, holding them to just 323 yards — most of them garbage time yards — and forced five turnovers.
A suffocating effort for the 36th ranked defense in the country.
The Ducks are as sound on both sides of the ball as you’ll see in the country and will pose a significant test for the Cougars who have yet to impress in any facet of the game for a consistent amount of time this season.
Washington St. Offense vs. Oregon Defense
Throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throw the damn ball.
The Cougars are going to find themselves losing sooner or later in this game and, if they weren’t a pass-happy offense already, wait til Halliday slings the rock 70 times against the Ducks.
Undoubtedly, they’ll try to establish the run, but that can only go so far if you’re behind early.
Gabe Marks and Marquess Wilson continued to be the most consistent receivers for the Cougars last week. Marks finished with 7 receptions for 107 yards with a score and Wilson ended up with 99 yards and two touchdowns to his name. The two will be vital against an Oregon secondary that ranks 42nd in passing defense.
For the Cougars to have any success, however, the receivers are going to need to hold onto the football. On several occasions, a handful of Cougars receivers dropped critical passes resulting in fourth down and ultimately contributing to Halliday’s miserable 53% completion rate.
Though, they won’t rush the ball extensively, if the Ducks decide to drop seven and eight men in coverage, Leach has showed he isn’t afraid to run the ball. Freshman RB Teondray Caldwell had 10 carries for 72 yards, which begs the question why Leach was so hesitant to continue running the ball with a late lead against Colorado.
Regardless, if the offensive line can find some success up front, the running game will be there — maybe.
Oregon Offense vs. Washington St. Defense
Oregon is going to do Oregon things on offense. Run the ball. Run the ball. Beat you on a deep pass over the middle. Run the ball in for a score. Six points. That will all most likely happen in under two minutes.
The Ducks’ quick strike offense spells problems for the Cougars’ defense due to their inability to get off the field. Make no mistake about it, the Cougars have been the victim of big play after big play, including a 84-yard touchdown run and a 70-yard touchdown pass last week — something Oregon excels at.
Thomas, as we saw last year, already has success running rampant against the Cougars and Barner will, whether the Cougars want to stop it or not, find the edges. Corner containment is going to need to on point because the Ducks have so much speed on the edges.
The Cougars’ secondary, the weakest part of the Cougars defense this season, will be stretched out from sideline to sideline in the secondary but will also be asked to handle the majority of the tackling duties.
The good thing for the Cougars? They have Travis Long.
The senior BUCK LB leads the nation in sacks with 6.5 and will likely be all over the field again, spying Thomas and Mariota for the majority of the game. Oregon is going to live and die by the run game and if the Cougars want to have any microscopic chance this week, Long and the Cougars’ defense will need to stop the run or they could be in for a long, long night.
Prediction and Analysis
I don’t think anyone will argue with the mammoth 30.5 point spread based on recent performances but I find it hard to believe that the Cougars will come into this game moping their heads after their heartbreaking defeat last week.
The Ducks can’t overlook the Cougars because their offense is bound to explode at some point, but if Oregon comes in focused, this could very well be the route that everyone is expecting.
Barring an epic collapse, the Ducks should win this game handily, but I wouldn’t necessarily sleep on the Cougars. After an embarrassment, you never know how a team will respond and based on Leach’s postgame comments last week, the Cougars have no choice not to come out motivated.
The Cougars are due for a huge upset, just sayin’.
But, to be honest, I don’t think it’s coming this week. Ducks in a route.