It's quiet now in Autzen Stadium. It's also more than two hours before game time as I write this. On the link you'll find some thoughts and the keys to tonight's game. Read on.
• It's funny. Hardly anyone here is talking about tonight's game. All anyone wants to talk about is LeGarrete Blount. I was on the radio down here and that was, appropriately, the first question. As I said, WSU has had enough of its problems, it (and the Cougar fans) doesn't have to worry about Oregon's. But the question that needs to be answered is, are the Ducks as focused on Blount as their fans? Probably not, though it would be quite easy for Oregon to be looking past the Cougars. Last week's game was such a big deal and next week the Ducks take to the road for the first time since Boise State, facing UCLA in Pasadena. So this might be the epitome of the sandwich game. If it is, then that's a plus for WSU. ... However, there are so many minuses, most of which we've already covered ad nauseum – the injuries up front, a freshman quarterback making his first start, the defense's problems with speed, etc. – that there is probably no reason to go into them again. Suffice to say, if the Cougars overcome all those negatives and stay close, it will be a not only a surprise, but it would be testament to their competiveness. But it's tough to see that happening. The Ducks have too many weapons on both sides of the ball for WSU to stay close. However, what would the Cougars have to do to make this one tight? Three things ...
• Tackle in space. The Cougar defense will have plenty of opportunities. The plan is to force the Ducks to march the length of the field – like last week – and try to force a mistake or two on the way. Last week, WSU did that in all but a few cases, thus the final score was respectable. This week there is even more pressure on the back seven – or eight – to be nearly flawless. We'll see how they will do.
• Take care of the football and move it. WSU can ill afford turnovers. Better to take a sack than throw a pick. Better to come up short on third down than fumble the ball. Better to let Reid Forrest punt and possible flip the field than give the Ducks field position. To do that, the guys up front will have to block, because pressure is the mother of most interceptions. It's a young group of course – what's the over on false starts today? – that will make mistakes. How Jeff Tuel responds to those mistakes – doe he take off and make positive yardage or does he make an ill-advised throw – will go a long way in setting the tone. But the other part of that equation is important as well. The Cougars need to move the ball. Along those lines, you will probably see more two back, I-formation sets today as WSU tries to take advantage of Oregon's propensity to play the edges, allowing the opposition to pound the ball up inside. My guess is you'll see the power game early.
• Make plays. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But in actuality, it isn't that easy for some. What it means for WSU today is catch the ball and pick up that first down. Slip a tackle and get a first down. Hold on and keep a Duck from getting a first down. Catch don't drop an interception. If WSU can make enough, they could make a game of it, something the Cougars haven't done against UO the past couple years.
• That's it for now. With the late start, I've got to write at halftime, so, unless the game is really out of hand, I probably won't post. Until later …