PULLMAN – They’re playing football on Saturday, too.
Hours after ESPN’s College GameDay disassembles its set, Kirk Herbstreit leaves Wazzu for Purdue and tens of thousands of Cougar fans recharge from the early-morning party on the corner of Stadium Way and Ferdinand Lane, No. 12 Oregon and No. 25 Washington State will throw on some pads and helmets and duke it out across the street.
The ramifications of Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. ( game between the Ducks (5-1, 2-1) and the Cougars (5-1, 2-1) aren’t exactly crystal clear. Both could lose at Martin Stadium and still arrive in Santa Clara, California, toward the end of November with a shot at representing the Pac-12 North in the conference championship game.
But they’d also buy themselves some definite leeway with a win – one that would probably vault the Ducks into the top 10 of the Associated Press rankings and the Cougars into the top 20. More important, it knocks the other one back a game in the hunt for the North.
As far as the point spread goes, WSU is favored by three. That’s also how many consecutive wins the Cougars have snagged in the series, dating to 2015. The Cougars won two of those comfortably, but Mike Leach said each has been a spirited battle – and the WSU coach doesn’t expect Saturday’s game to be the one that bucks the trend.
“They’ve been really hard-fought games, all of them have,” Leach said. “I think this one will be the same. They’ve very fast guys and they always seem like they’re very fast-moving games. They move fast and of course we’re throwing it downfield, so the pace, it’s always got a quick pace to it.
“It’s come down to whoever’s most willing to slug it out at the end.”
Over the past decade, Oregon’s been known for its flash, finesse and razzle-dazzle uniforms. While the Ducks haven’t ditched the glitzy unis, they’ve undertaken more of a brutish, physical persona under first-year head coach Mario Cristobal, a former Miami offensive tackle who’s spent most of his career coaching in the trenches.
Multiple offensive line starters left UO’s last game wounded, but the unit banded together without Penei Sewell and Dallas Warmack. The big brutes up front were the ones responsible for creating the crater-sized hole CJ Verdell ran through to score the winning touchdown in a 30-27 upset of seventh-ranked Washington.
“They’ve got a big O-line, they’re athletic, they like to really double and push guys off the ball,” Cougars defensive lineman Nick Begg said. “So we’re going to have to play with good pad level and pass-rush well because they’re pretty solid in their pass-blocking, so we’re just going to have to play fundamentally sound, stay in our gaps and play well.”
Warmack, a senior graduate transfer who came to the Ducks from Alabama, will return to his right guard position. Sewell, the left tackle, has been ruled out.
While the Ducks have added hints of power and toughness under Cristobal, it hasn’t been a complete overhaul of the Oregon brand Chip Kelly established in a short but historic tenure in the Willamette Valley. Traces of Kelly’s tempo offense can still be found at Autzen Stadium and the Ducks haven’t gone away from recruiting quick four- and five-star athletes on both sides of the ball.
“They’re similar type of athletes, a lot of team speed out there for them,” Leach said. “They have a lot of team speed flashing around there.”
“Just seems like they’ve had team speed for 15 years now,” WSU inside receivers coach Dave Nichol said. “… It’ll be a good test.”
The concerns the Cougars have about the Ducks mirror the ones Cristobal listed when asked what problems Leach’s offense to poses to Jim Leavitt’s UO defense: a stout front line and a talented quarterback. Wide receivers galore, too.
“The quarterback’s an excellent player, the offensive line is a veteran group that protects him well,” Cristobal said earlier this week in a news conference. “Every kind of receiver you want on your roster, they have. They’ve got the big guy that can long stride and run by you (Dezmon Patmon), they have the slot guy that wiggle by you and create problems in space (Jamire Calvin). They use a running back really well out of the backfield (James Williams) and an empty formation to create mismatches.”
Yes, College GameDay’s debut show in Pullman promises to be electric. The football game could be even better.
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