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Sports >  WSU football

First look: Washington State hits the road for consequential matchup with No. 4 Oregon

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 8, 2021

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

What is it? Coming off a bye week, Washington State (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12) has a chance to enter the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 North when it meets divisional leader No. 4 Oregon (8-1, 5-1) on the road.

Where is it? Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.

When is it? Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Where can I watch it? ESPN will broadcast the game.

Who is favored? The Ducks opened as 16-point favorites, but that number has since dropped to 131/2.

How did they fare last week? The Cougars used their bye week to install 90% of the game plan for UO, interim coach Jake Dickert said. WSU spent the remaining time off resting and recruiting. The Ducks dominated Washington on the ground and held the Huskies to just 166 yards of offense in a 26-16 UO victory Saturday in rainy Seattle.

Why WSU will win: WSU was also a two-touchdown underdog two weeks ago against Arizona State, and the Cougars ended up routing the Sun Devils. There might not be a hotter team in the Pac-12 right now than WSU, which has won four of its past five games and enters this one fresh off a bye. “I know there’s a confidence level that our players have going into this game,” Dickert said. Statistically, the Cougars would have the edge in a shootout. Oregon’s passing defense has underperformed this season while WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura is surging. The Ducks’ passing game has left much to be desired, and Oregon has been forced in about half of its games to lean heavily on its running backs. UO pulled off a 35-28 win over No. 3 Ohio State in Week 2 but has since played five tight contests against underdog opponents, including an overtime loss to Stanford.

Why Oregon will win: The Ducks have run for over 200 yards in five games, most recently eclipsing the 300-yard mark in a physical win over the defense-minded Huskies. While UO’s QB play hasn’t been stellar, explosive running back Travis Dye and the Duck ground game have been the driving force behind UO’s offensive success this year. Dye ranks second in the Pac-12 with 820 yards and averages 6.1 yards per carry. The Cougar defense has been off-and-on in stopping the run this season. WSU thrives on takeaways, but UO hardly coughs it up. The Ducks rank third in the league with just nine giveaways. Although the UO defense has been decimated by injuries, NFL-caliber players like defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and linebacker Noah Sewell will be a handful. The Ducks boast one of the nation’s most talented front sevens.

What happened last time? WSU led by double digits in the second quarter in Pullman on Nov. 14, 2020, but UO came alive for a score with three seconds until halftime and kept its foot down after intermission for a 43-29 win. Boosted by big games from quarterback Tyler Shough and Dye, the Ducks piled up 582 total yards and outscored the Cougars 29-10 in the second half. UO owns the all-time advantage against WSU 50-41-7 and is on a two-game winning streak in the series, but WSU claimed four straight between 2015 and ’18.

Things to know

1. WSU gained a season-high 166 yards on 42 runs at ASU – the most rushing attempts for the Cougs in 11 years. Dickert said the uptick in carries was partially meant to drain the clock, but it’s also been an emphasis in recent weeks to increase the workload for standout backs Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh. “It’s the run-and-shoot for a reason. I think we can feature those guys even more going forward.”

2. Ducks coach Mario Cristobal said Monday that WSU “is as big a rival as we have because of how these games have gone in the past.” He’s referring to the well-matched nature of this series.

WSU is 4-2 in the past six matchups and has outscored Oregon 227-181 since 2015.

3. UO has been hit with a bad case of the injury bug this season. The Ducks lost star running back CJ Verdell early in the year to a season-ending lower-body injury. The Ducks’ linebacking corps has been decimated, and so has the tight ends room. Two-deep LBs Dru Mathis, Justin Flowe and Jackson LaDuke are out, as are notable TEs Cam McCormick and Patrick Herbert. Other key players expected to miss the rest of the campaign include safety Bennett Williams, guard Jonathan Denis and running back Sean Dollars.

4. Oregon assistants Jim Mastro (RBs), Ken Wilson (LBs) and Joe Salave’a (co-DC/DL) all used to work at WSU under former coach Mike Leach.

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