PULLMAN – The recipe just doesn’t seem quite right, unless you’re trying to make a pancake-flat soufflé.
Start with a defense that has been gashed for 722 yards on the ground the past two weeks, mix in a couple of injuries to veteran players and add at least four freshmen, two of whom have been playing their positions for a week.
Put it on a field with an offense that is positively on fire, leading the nation in scoring and total offense, and bake for three hours on a Saturday afternoon.
However you slice it, the result may be road-kill casserole.
“You just have to play and you have to play fast,” Washington State coach Paul Wulff said of today’s homecoming opponent, the third-ranked Oregon Ducks. “No one has stopped them, but we sure as heck can try to get in the right position and make plays.”
The Oregon offense has cooked all season, starting with the 72 points scored in the opener against New Mexico through the 52 it put up on then-No. 9 Stanford last week.
The Ducks, who run their offense at a tempo rarely equaled in college football, are averaging 56.6 points a game, though the defense and special teams have accounted for six touchdowns in five games.
Their most impressive number is 569.2. That’s Oregon’s average yards of total offense in running its record to 5-0, 2-0 in the Pac-10.
Washington State (1-4, 0-2) will counter with a defense that’s last in the conference in rushing (255.2 yards per game), scoring (42.8 points), total yards given up (509.8 yards) and pass efficiency (a rating of 149.6).
And it’s a defense that’s in flux.
Out is usual starting middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood, waylaid by a neck strain that’s limited his effectiveness. In is freshman C.J. Mizell, possibly WSU’s most athletic defender but one of its least experienced.
Out is usual starting strong safety Chima Nwachukwu, sidelined by a hamstring pull. In is either freshman Deone Bucannon, who has shown flashes in relief of Nwachukwu, or redshirt freshman Anthony Carpenter, moved back to safety from cornerback earlier this week.
Freshman Sekope Kaufusi, who has been playing defensive end, was also shuffled this week, moving back to the linebacker spot he played while redshirting last year.
“We spent the week trying to make ourselves better,” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. “We kept the game plan simple so we can play faster and be able to get lined up – it’s high tempo, which makes it that much harder.”
No matter what shakes out, Ball knows what he wants to see today.
“We’ve got to go out there and compete,” said Ball, who has coached in the SEC and the Big East. “This league, it’s as good as any league in the country. It is the best right now. It’s a man’s league.
“It doesn’t matter who you are playing in this league. They can put some points on you quick. We can’t control that they’ve got great players. All we can control is showing up and competing our (butts) off.”