(Our series previewing the 2014 WSU football schedule continues with Oregon)
A game against Oregon, the fastest, most efficient bully in college football, can quickly get out of hand. Washington State learned that last year when a commendable 34-24 halftime deficit turned into a 24-point blowout in less than six minutes. The Cougars scored the game's final two touchdowns in the 62-38 loss, which really upset UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti for about a day.
Still, it would be a mistake to write-off the Cougars in their Pac-12 opener against the Ducks. For some reason, UO has had some motivation problems lately and struggles to give its best in games that are not being played on the biggest of stages.
Its Rose Bowl hopes were dashed last season after a pretty pedestrian Arizona team dominated the Ducks offensively and defensively. They lost 42-16! So there really is no reason WSU – or anyone else – should feel like they can't beat the Ducks at home. Because for whatever reason the Pac-12's best team just can't always seem to stay focused.
Follow the jump for the rest of our look at WSU's fourth opponent.
Last Season: Chip Kelly's departure for the NFL didn't stall Oregon's Corvette offense, which put up 565.0 yards per game, the second best in Pac-12 history. Quarterback Marcus Mariota proved to be just as good at passing as running, leading the conference with a passing efficiency of 167.7.
The Ducks roared out the gate, winning their first eight games while scoring at least 42 points in each contest. The bludgeoned No. 16 Washington 45-24, and made No. 12 UCLA look silly in a 45-14 victory.
But the Ducks season came undone in a 26-20 loss at No. 5 Stanford. Oregon's shot at a national title was gone and the team seemed largely disinterested the rest of the year, losing at Arizona and only beating Oregon State by a point at home.
Players to watch:
Marcus Mariota, QB, 6-4, 215: He can beat you with his arms and his legs, he doesn't turn the ball over often, and he's got a legitimate chance to win the Heisman and get picked first in the NFL draft. You should probably watch him.
Byron Marshall, RB, 5-10, 201: Last year was supposed to be De'Anthony Thomas' year but instead Marshall had a breakout season, rushing for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Also watch out for true sophomore Thomas Tyner.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, 5-10, 195: Ekpre-Olomu is one of the top cornerbacks in college football, and should pick up his third All-Pac-12 award this season. He could have been a first round pick had he left school but instead the Ducks will welcome back and NFL caliber cornerback.
Strength: Running game. Oregon always has good running backs and this year is no different with Marshall and Tyner, who is so fast that some thought he should forego college football and concentrate on the Olympics. But what makes the Ducks particularly dangers on the ground is the running ability of QB Marcus Mariota, who averages 7.4 yards per rush.
Weakness: Secondary. Ekpre-Olomu's back but he is the only starting defensive back to return from a secondary that led the Pac-12 in pass defense. While UO has experienced depth, don't be surprised if redshirt freshman Tyree Robinson gets plenty of time at safety.