3 things to watch
1 No one has put a yellow flag to Oregon’s NASCAR-like offense this year, so there’s little chance Washington State and its 118th-ranked defense will. So the Cougars have to find a way to give their offense a couple of extra possessions. That will be the best way to keep the game in the respectable category. But unless a Ducks player just drops the ball, a WSU defender has to either jar the football loose or grab an errant pass. To do that, the Cougars have to be in the right spot at the right time. The past two weeks, the defense has struggled to accomplish that task.
2 The Oregon offense can score so quickly that the defense has had to learn to play while tired. Though the group has kept opponents out of the end zone – the Ducks are 15th in the nation in scoring defense, yielding just 15 points a game – it’s done it by forcing turnovers of its own – Oregon gives up 339 yards a game, more than 200 of that coming through the air. The Ducks take big gambles, knowing if they are not rewarded, the offense can make up for a score. Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel has to figure out where the Ducks’ defense is vulnerable, get the time to exploit it and then execute. WSU hasn’t been able to do that in the last three meetings with UO – all losses by 45 points or more.
3 One of WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy’s mantras: Punting is OK. And with Reid Forrest doing it, that’s usually the case. But Oregon is different. Don’t be surprised if the Ducks come after Forrest at least once today, trying for a big play – a punt block (those have already bitten the Cougars twice this year). But even if they protect well, on the other end of Forrest’s punt is either electric Kenjon Barner or Cliff Harris, who just happens to lead the nation, averaging 28.14 yards per return. Expect Forrest to vary his kicks today, sending some out-of-bounds, others deep toward the goal line and others rolling down the field rugby style.
4 There is no denying Oregon is explosive on both sides of the football – and on special teams. But the Ducks are much more so when amped up by the crowd at Autzen Stadium. In their two road appearances this season they’ve struggled for relatively long periods. They trailed 13-3 at Tennessee in a game that included a lightning delay of more than an hour. Of course, they scored 45 unanswered points to win 48-13. And at ASU, the Ducks were behind 24-14 before scoring four consecutive touchdowns and winning 42-31. A near-capacity crowd is expected today at Martin Stadium, but how much effect it will have – and how many will be wearing green – remains to be seen.