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Talking Ducks with Choate, plus practice notes

COUGARS

FROM PULLMAN — The Cougars continued working on their scout today for this weekend's game against Oregon, practicing for another two hours or so. We have notes and quotes, so read on.


It appears Connor Halliday has taken control of the starting job again this week — as coach Mike Leach said he probably would — as Halliday took starter's reps once again. And since Wednesday is always the final day of full-out game-planning and preparation, it's probably safe to say Halliday will make his third consecutive start on Saturday. … Dan Spitz was absent from practice again, though offensive lineman Wade Jacobson, who was injured against Colorado and spent the last two practices in the sand pit, returned to at least take a couple of reps during scout work. It remains to be seen whether he will be available to play this week. … The scout-team offense is getting a workout this week as it attempts to replicate the speed of Oregon's up-tempo attack (though as linebackers coach Jeff Choate said, it's more or less impossible to totally simulate what the Ducks do), which means the first-team defense is getting the run-around, too.

Here are some quotes from Choate, who spoke with reporters afterward. The Ducks have been beaten six times since Chip Kelly took over as Oregon's coach. One of those was the 2009 season opener — Kelly's first game as Oregon's head man — when Boise State toppled the Ducks 19-8. Choate was on Boise State's sideline as an assistant coach.

(What worked so well for Boise State against the Ducks that night?) “I think it was a combination of things. That was coach Kelly’s first game as a head coach, and there was obviously a lot of hoopla surrounding that game but more than anything our guys just played really hard. You can draw up a lot of different schemes and I think most coaches would say this, it boils down to your guys’ executing. What we try to do is keep our game plan very simple. I think we called basically the same defense about 45 times in that game, there was 49 snaps. It wasn’t anything that was revolutionary in terms of a blitz package or anything like that. We’ve just got to line up and play.”

(Are they harder to game-plan for than most teams?) “I was comparing it really to like an Air Force type of situation, because it is option football. There’s a lot of nuances to it. (Marcus) Mariota’s probably a better passer than what they’ve had in the past, so that presents a new challenge, but the tempo is what probably creates more issues in terms of preparation, really, than the scheme. And they execute at such a high level. It’s not that they’re running a lot of exotic plays, it’s just that they’re executing really well and they’re doing it really fast and once you get fatigued, mentally and physically, things start to fall apart and that’s kind of what you see in the second half of the games they've played so far this year. They kind of wear teams down and they explode on teams in the second half.”

(On limiting big plays) “I think that’s the whole thing. You look at it, you hit the nail on the head, they feast on them. They kind of go one yard gain, two yard gain, six yard gain, 70 yard gain. So what you’ve got to try to do, is you’ve got to try to limit those. You’ve got to make them earn it. Not  very many teams are going to be patient enough to just keep plugging away with the same stuff all the time and usually sooner or later they have the athletes to pop it. The biggest difference with Oregon right now vs. maybe five, six years ago is the speed that they have at their skill positions is just explosive. It’s unbelievable.”

(On Oregon's tempo presenting a challenge) “I think it’s a big challenge. You can see, we try to create as much chaos as we can in practice but you can’t simulate it because that’s what those guys do from fall camp through spring ball through the entire season, so not only do they get up and run plays very quickly but they execute them at a much higher level than we can simulate. That’s always I think the biggest challenge when you’re playing a team like Oregon, is how are you going to match the tempo, how are you going to allow your kids to have a clear mind and get up and play football.”

(On Oregon fumbling a lot this year) “We’ve got to capitalize on that. When we have the opportunity to get a takeaway we’ve got to capitalize on that. I think the Fresno State game’s a prime example of that. They had a couple opportunities where they’re just about ready to kind of inch back into the game and the ball’s on the ground and Oregon’s able to fall on it and they aren’t able to capitalize on those situations.”

Christian Caple can be reached at christianc@spokesman.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple


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