Wounded Cougars Face The No. 2 Ducks
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — The Washington State Cougars are at least outwardly undaunted even though they’re more than five-touchdown underdogs to second-ranked Oregon.
“We don’t fear them,” linebacker Darryl Monroe said earlier this week in advance of Saturday night’s game at Autzen Stadium.
But there’s certainly plenty to worry about when it comes to the Ducks, who are undefeated this season and averaging nearly 57 points per game with an offense that is racking up 630.5 yards a game, second-best in the nation.
Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) has a six-game winning streak over Washington State, averaging nearly 51 points per game over that span.
The Ducks are coming off a 45-24 victory over Washington in Seattle last weekend. After Stanford’s upset loss to Utah, Oregon is alone in first place in the Pac-12 North. UCLA, also undefeated, leads the Pac-12 South in the standings at the halfway point of the season.
The Cougars (4-3, 2-2) will have to guard against a fourth-quarter meltdown like last week in a 52-24 loss to Oregon State in Pullman. The Beavers outscored Washington State 28-0 in the fourth quarter, and Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday threw three interceptions.
“I think we panicked,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said. “Both sides of the ball were trying to make too much happen. One overcorrection led to the next.”
Oregon has faced a pass-heavy offense like Washington State’s Air Raid under Leach. Earlier this season the Ducks defeated California and first-year coach Sonny Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense 55-16.
But that game was played in an almost constant downpour in Eugene, and prolific Cal quarterback Jared Goff had trouble holding the ball and was replaced.
The forecast for Saturday’s game calls for clear skies with temperatures hovering around 60 at the start of the game.
“The rain obviously didn’t give Cal an opportunity to do what they wanted to do, but our preparation is very similar. I don’t think it’s going to rain so we can’t count on the rain,” defensive coordinator Nick Allioti said. “The rain did help us that game quite a bit, especially with a young freshman quarterback. But this is an older guy and it won’t be raining.”
Here are five things to look for when the Cougars visit the Ducks on Saturday night.
HALLIDAY’S STATUS: Despite Halliday’s struggles at quarterback against the Beavers, Leach has said there are no plans to bench the junior. “All quarterbacks have a bad game, or one like that,” Leach said. “He had a bad fourth quarter, but we have a whole team that had a bad fourth quarter.” Halliday has 14 touchdowns this season, along with 13 total interceptions.
DAT RETURN? It’s uncertain whether dynamic Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas will return this week against the Cougars. Thomas has been out since his slipped on the rain-soaked turf at Autzen on the opening kickoff against Cal. He’s suited up for the past two games, but hasn’t played. Thomas has run for 338 yards and six touchdowns this season.
IF UTAH CAN DO IT, WHY NOT THE COUGS? Utah’s surprise 27-21 victory over then-No. 5 Stanford showed Washington State that big upsets are possible. Indeed, the Cougars defeated a ranked opponent earlier this season when they beat then-No. 25 USC 10-7, although it was before the Trojans fired head coach Lane Kiffin. Washington State has not defeated a team in the top five since 2003, when the team downed No. 5 Texas 28-20 in the Holiday Bowl.
MARVELOUS MARIOTA: Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota admits to watching ESPN now and then, so he no doubt knows that the pundits have him on their Heisman Trophy short lists this season. But he’s trying to ignore the hype: “I wouldn’t say I’m unaware, but I do my best not to pay attention. I focus on coming into the facility and just working out and doing the best that I can and getting better every day.” The sophomore’s numbers are impressive: He’s completed 100 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s also run for 426 yards and eight more TDs.
PRETTY IN PINK: The Oregon Ducks will wear pink helmets — along with pink cleats, socks and gloves — to honor breast cancer survivors and help raise money for the Kay Yow Cancer fund. The Ducks plan to auction a number of the helmets off following the game for the charity, which is named after the former North Carolina State women’s basketball coach. Oregon will wear its black jerseys and pants to complete the ensemble.
Associated Press Writer Nicholas K. Geranios in Washington contributed to this report.
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