PULLMAN – The Pac-12 Conference has two of the nation’s top football teams, and they couldn’t be more different.
There’s fourth-ranked Stanford, the pound-it-out, power football team with a reputation for smash-mouth play. The Cardinal rolled over Washington State two weeks ago in Pullman, pulling away in the second half for a 44-14 victory.
And there’s Oregon, WSU’s opponent this week. The Ducks, 6-1 overall, 4-0 in Pac-12 play and ranked seventh nationally, would rather run away from their opponent than over them.
“They are polar opposites in the running game,” Washington State coach Paul Wulff said of the two. “Stanford is going to be extremely physical and pack everything into the box. … Oregon is going to spread you out. They’re just trying to put bodies on bodies and let their speed take advantage of the wider lanes.
“They do it from sideline to sideline.”
Not surprisingly, the schools are 1-2 in the conference in four major statistical categories: scoring offense, rushing offense, total offense and scoring defense. And they split the top spots evenly, with the Ducks the better rushing and total offensive team.
Although the Cougars (3-4, 1-3) held the Cardinal under their season average in scoring, rushing and total offense, Oregon presents a different challenge, especially on offense.
The only teams that have stopped the Ducks the past couple of years have been Southeastern Conference powers Auburn and LSU, the former in last year’s national title game, the latter in the season opener.
“You look at the teams that have defended Oregon well and had the most success,” Wulff said, “they just were better physically. They were aggressive and physical in the front and they got after them.”
That’s mainly what the Cougars tried to do last year in a game they led 14-8 but lost 43-23, giving up 556 yards. The Ducks’ speed proved to be too much.
“If there is a position that doesn’t have speed, I don’t know it,” linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis said of the Ducks’ offense. “We can combat that by being sound in our assignments and lots of film study so that we can play fast on the field, be confident in what we have to do.”
The Ducks may not be as fast as usual Saturday, as quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman Trophy candidate running back LaMichael James have been sidelined with injuries.
But backups Bryan Bennett and Kenjon Barner – knocked out last season in Pullman during a kickoff runback – were just fine last week against Colorado.
Bennett was 11 of 20 for 156 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for another 69 yards. Barner gained 110 yards on 10 carries, including an 84-yard touchdown run.
“Darron Thomas, he’s been running the offense for a year, he has all that game-time experience, so he probably knows it a little better,” WSU defensive end Travis Long said. “But (Bennett) is very good as well. Same with Barner right now, he’s just as fast. But LaMichael and Darron, they have that game-time experience.”