The Oregon Ducks (4-0, 1-0) take to the road for the first time in 2012 this Saturday heading to Seattle to take on the Washington State Cougars (2-2, 0-1) at Century Link Field.
Coming into the 2012 season, there was renewed optimism in Pullman about the Cougar program and the direction it was headed. With former Oregon Athletic Director Bill Moos at the helm, the Cougars hired Mike Leach in hopes of bringing his Texas Tech "Air Raid" magic to the Palouse. The results, though, have not met the expectations of many Cougar fans early as Washington State has struggled to adopt Mike Leach's pass oriented spread offense. Last weekend, Washington State had a 31-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter with possession of the football inside the red zone, yet found a way to lose to Colorado. The 35-34 loss has emphasized just how difficult the transition of a new coach will be for the Cougars.
Oregon comes into the contest off of what is by far their best defensive effort of the season; an effort that ranks with some of the best defensive performances in school history. Oregon held an Arizona team averaging 596 yards per game and over 46 points per game to 332 yards en route to a 49-0 shutout of the Wildcats. The performance was enough to move the Ducks up to No. 2 in the rankings.
WSU: The projected starter is still a game time decision. The listed starter, when healthy, is Jeff Tuel (6-3, 221) a senior who has been injury prone for much of his career at Washington State. Tuel comes into the contest having appeared in two games this season and completing just over 70 percent of his passes going 50-71 for 400 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Tuel has been successful in the past and, when healthy is a good quarterback with the tools to be successful. Tuel is not a fleet footed quarterback having been sacked 5 times in his two appearances losing 42 yards on those sacks.
If Tuel is unable to play, the start will go to Connor Halliday (6-4, 189) a sophomore who had some late season success in 2011. Halliday played in four games for the Cougars last season completing 59 -103 for 960 yards and 9 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. This season Halliday has appeared in all three games but is completing just 54.3 percent of his passes going 63-116 for 855 yards with 8 touchdowns, but he has thrown 5 interceptions in those three appearances. Halliday is also not very fleet having been sacked 6 times losing 46 yards early this season.
Oregon: Marcus Mariota earns his fifth start for the Ducks against the Cougars. After a brilliant opening game for the Ducks, Mariota was a little shaky against Fresno State. He has appeared to settle down some, though still prone to a turnover. For the season Mariota has completed 78 of 112 passes for 934 yards with 10 touchdowns and 2 interception. On the ground, Mariota has carried the ball 27 times for 125 yards on the ground.
Behind Mariota will be Bryan Bennett. Bennett has one start to his credit coming against Colorado last season. This year, mostly in mop up relief of Mariota, Bennett has completed 13 of 23 passes for 135 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Bennett is dangerous with his feet last year accumulating 200 yards rushing in his brief 6 appearances. Through three appearances this year, Bennett has 12 carries for 61 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.
While Washington State could end up with more total passing yards than the Ducks, Mariota is more efficient with his passing and has better accuracy and touch than either of the Washington State signal callers. The Duck quarterbacks present a dual threat to run with the ball and extend plays to create yards out of broken plays. While Mariota has made some mistakes with turnovers, the Cougar quarterbacks have combined for 7 interceptions through the first four games this season.
WSU: Washington State uses a four wide receiver set and has one of the best receivers in the nation on their side with Marquess Wilson (6-4, 185) the junior All-American candidate. Last season, Wilson became just the second WSU receiver with multiple 1,000 yard seasons and this year is starting strong for Wilson as well. Through the first four games, Wilson has 18 receptions for 317 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 17.6 yards per catch lead the team. Next to Wilson will be Gabe Marks (6-0, 187) a freshman from Venice, California. The true freshman, a former 4 star recruit according to Rivals, has made his mark early with 19 catches for 326 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Across from Wilson will be Isiah Myers (6-0, 176) a sophomore who played mostly on special teams a year ago. This season, though, Myers has made a huge impact for the Cougars leading the team with 24 receptions for 235 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The final starter will be Brett Bartolone (5-10, 179) a freshman with 13 catches for 104 yards. The primary reserve receiver for Washington State will be Bobby Ratliff. Ratliff has appeared in three games and has 7 catches for 85 yards this season.
Oregon: Starting at the wide receiver position for Oregon on one side will be Keanon Lowe, a sophomore from Jesuit High School in the Portland area. Lowe has played well for the Ducks early in 2012 and has 9 catches for 93 yards and 1 touchdown. Starting opposite Lowe should be Josh Huff. Huff played well despite battling injuries for most of 2011. After a scare against Fresno State, Huff should be at full strength this week. Huff has managed 2 catches for 22 yards and 1 touchdown in two brief appearances. If Huff is unable to start after missing the last two games, the start will go to Eric Dungy who has also played well in his time on the field and has 5 receptions for 41 yards. Daryle Hawkins gets the start at the third wideout position. Hawkins, an all-purpose athlete the prior two seasons for the Ducks has nestled into his starting role well with 7 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown..
Not to be forgotten is De'Anthony Thomas. Though he is listed as a running back on the depth chart, he is more frequently spotted lining up as a receiver for Oregon. He is the leading receiver for the Ducks with 13 catches for 165 yards and 3 receiving touchdowns.
Beyond the starters, the Ducks play a lot of receivers. True freshman Bralon Addison is the primary reserve and has 11 catches for 162 yards after a great game against the Wildcats last Saturday. Dwayne Stanford has emerged over the last two games as another big target and now has 11 receptions for 106 yards. Rashaan Vaughn has 6 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. B. J. Kelley has chipped in with 3 catches for 51 yards this season.
If we were just looking at the number one wide receiver on the team, Marquess Wilson is an NFL receiver on a college team; he is one of the best in the nation. While the Cougars receivers have bigger reception numbers, the Duck receivers are two deep at all three spots and there is little drop off when the number twos are in the game. For that reason, and the fact that Thomas' production and ability to break the big play offset the bigger numbers that Washington State's receivers will put into the stat book.
WSU: The Cougars are not a good running team. They will start Teondray Caldwell (5-8, 189) a freshman from Venice. In his first four appearances this season, Caldwell has 25 carries for 122 yards. Despite not starting, senior Carl Winston (5-8, 192) leads the team in carries and yards with 34 touches for 147 yards and a touchdown. Junior running back Leon Brooks (5-7, 166) gets some looks in the backfield and has 10 carries for 35 yards and one touchdown this season.
Oregon: Depth was an early concern for Oregon as only Kenjon Barner and Thomas were returners from last season. Barner, who has a chance to end up as the second all-time leading rusher for the Ducks this season, has played well in a limited role early this season. Against Arkansas State Barner did not play past the second quarter; the same was true of Tennessee Tech. Barner did prove, however, that he could be a lead back when he carried the ball 34 times for 201 yards against Fresno State. So far early this season Barner has 76 carries for 410 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns. He has good hands out of the backfield with 8 catches for 74 yards.
Behind Barner will be De'Anthony Thomas. Despite a limited number of carries, Thomas still manages to excite the crowd just about every time he touches the ball. So far through four games, Thomas has 25 carries for 276 yards, a whopping 11 yards per carry. He has scored 4 rushing touchdowns this season.
Providing a little more security is true freshman Byron Marshall. After a solid debut against Arkansas State, Marshall showed great improvements in his running over the past two games. So far this season, in two appearances, Marshall has 40 carries for 199 yards and 2 more rushing touchdowns.
Not to be forgotten is the newest dimension to the Oregon offense, tight end Colt Lyerla dropping back into the backfield and carrying the ball. Against Arizona, Lyerla carried the ball 7 times for 63 yards and a touchdown.
With Thomas and Barner, Oregon will have the edge on just about every opponent they face this season. This week is no different. The emergence of Marshall as a third back provides the Ducks with more security and depth. Though he may not be needed this week, the powerful presence of Lyerla will make this position even more imposing as the season wears on.
WSU : The Cougars have not been a good running team the last two seasons and have not protected quarterbacks very well. This season appears to be playing out in a similar fashion for the Cougars, but there are signs that the team is building for the future. One of those signs is the starting offensive line for Washington State. Starting at left tackle is Gunnar Eklund (6-7, 286) a redshirt freshman. As a freshman, this will be Eklund's fifth appearance of his career.
At the other tackle position, Wade Jacobson (6-6, 300) will get the start. Jacobson moves over to the right tackle position after starting 11 games for the Cougars last season at guard.
At one guard position will be John Fullington (6-5, 300) a junior who started every game last season. Fullington is also listed as the backup at the left tackle position. Taylor Meighan (6-3, 286) is listed as Fullington's backup. Meighan, a senior, appeared in three games last season after transferring in from Kilgore Junior College.
At the other guard position will be Jake Rodgers (6-6, 300) a sophomore who appeared in three games last season. Behind Rodgers will be Matt Goetz (6-4, 272) a junior with plenty of experience having started 9 games last season as a junior college transfer.
The center position will be manned by Elliot Bosch (6-4, 271) a former walk-on with just 8 appearances coming into this season.,The reserve center will be Zach Brevick (6-5, 270) another former walk-on who has just three appearances in his first two seasons.
The Cougars lack depth on the line with starters Fullington and Rodgers also listed as the back-ups at two other positions.
Oregon: The Ducks lost their most experienced offensive lineman when Carson York went down with a knee injury during the Fresno State game. Nonetheless, due to the Ducks rotation, there are plenty of experienced players left.
Jake Fisher (6-6, 294), a sophomore who appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman last season holds down the right tackle position. Behind him is Everett Benyard (6-7, 305) a junior with 14 appearances last season including at least 20 snaps in four of those appearances.
On the other side is redshirt Freshman Tyler Johnston (6-6, 292) making his fifth start for the Ducks. Behind Johnstone will be Kyle Long (6-7, 311) a senior transfer who engaged in a spirited battle with Johnstone for the starting position during fall camp.
Inside at guard, Oregon starts Nick Cody (6-5, 310) a senior who started all 13 games last season. Behind Cody will be Hamani Stevens (6-3, 298) a redshirt sophomore who played in 8 games last season.
At the other guard will be Ryan Clanton (6-5, 305) a senior who appeared in 11 games last season for Oregon. Behind him is walk-on Mana Greig (5-11, 21) a junior who has appeared in 13 games prior to this season.
Center will be manned by Hroniss Grasu (6-3, 294) a sophomore from Crespi High School. Grasu has started every game of his Duck career (18) and is the anchor of the line. Behind Grasu on the depth chart is Karrington Armstrong (6-3, 290) a junior who appeared in 8 games last season for the Ducks.
The Cougars are not deep at the offensive line position and have not been particularly adept at creating running lanes for the backs nor at protecting the quarterback. The Cougars are averaging just 79 yards per game on the ground and have given up 11 sacks in early season play.
Oregon, meanwhile, brings in two rock solid starters from last season with Cody and Grasu, but have considerably more depth than the Cougars. And, in a twist not normally seen, Oregon has the clear advantage in offensive line size. Oregon averages 6-5, 299 across the line while Arizona averages 6-5 and 290 pounds. The discrepancy is even bigger when you look at the two deep,
WSU : I Mike Leach's scheme, the Cougars do not list a tight end on their roster.
Oregon: While Oregon is very young at the tight end position with the "elder statesman" being sophomore Colt Lyerla, the Ducks youth has proven to be deep and talented as three scholarship tight ends have seen plenty of early action for Oregon. The probable starter is Lyerla (6-5, 246) a sensationally gifted athlete. After scoring 5 touchdowns on his 7 receptions as a freshman, Lyerla has played well early this season with 8 catches for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Pharoah Brown (6-4, 251) has also played well for the Ducks early with the true freshman making 2 receptions for 42 yards. Converted defensive end Koa Ka'ai (6-4, 251) is the best blocker of the three but has shown good hands in his limited early opportunities with 2 catches for 18 yards.
This is a no-brainer. With no tight end on the roster for Washington State, Oregon obviously has the edge at the position! Even if the Cougars did have a tight end, Oregon would still likely get the edge.
WSU: The Cougars passing numbers might look impressive on paper, but, they have not produced enough points as the Cougars average just 24.8 points per game. When Leach was at Texas Tech, he had a succession of quarterbacks that put up video game like numbers throwing for well over 4000 yards. This season, though, Washington State has not picked up his schemes very well. Their average passing yards per game of 313.8 looks impressive until you look at last season and see that the Cougars actually had better passing numbers a year ago averaging 322.2 yards per game. In addition, the average per catch and average per attempt yardage is also down compared to last season.
Making matters worse for Washington State is that the running game, which was anaemic at 100.2 yards per game last season is virtually non-existent this year as the Cougars are gaining just 59.0 yards per game on the ground.
Oregon: It is difficult to measure just how good the Duck offense is this season. Even in the impressive 49-0 win last weekend, the Oregon offense struggled at times and gave the Wildcats far too many opportunities with turnovers and bad plays inside the 35 yard line. Nonetheless, the offense still managed to muster 228 rushing yards and 267 passing yards while putting up 35 points against a unique Arizona defense.
Coming into the Washington State game, the Ducks are averaging 571 yards of total offense per game with over 300 yards rushing per game. The offensive line has given up just 5 sacks in the first four games and is opening holes to the tune of 5.7 yards per carry in the running game. The Duck offense has scored 27 touchdowns in just 4 games this season as the team averages 52.8 points per game.
Washington State will do what Mike Leach offenses do; throw the ball... a lot. Marquess Wilson is a very tough receiver to cover with the combination of his size and speed. The Cougars will look to exploit this with a lot of quick slants and short bubble passes looking to get the defensive backs to cheat up and then they will look for a play over the top to Wilson. The Cougars have a bevy of talented fast receivers and will look to continue getting the ball all over the field to keep the defense stretched out to keep pressure off of the quarterback.
The Cougar offensive line has proven incapable of protecting quarterbacks early in 2012 and will struggle to maintain blocks again this week. Cougar quarterbacks are prone to throwing interceptions and will struggle to complete a high percentage of passes. Against average defenses, Halliday has struggled with just a 54.3 percent completion rate and 5 interceptions through three appearances.
The Ducks, meanwhile, will look to use their size, speed and strength advantage to make plays in the center of the field. The offense will set up those plays with quick passes wide to De'Anthony Thomas then hand the ball off to Barner and Thomas to make plays in wide open running lanes. The versatility of the passing game with the tight ends and good strong handed receivers will be too much for the Cougar defense to stop. The Cougar defense gives up over 470 yards per game and 28 popints per game. Against one of the worst offenses in the nation last weekend, Washington State allowed Colorado 531 total yards of offense including 345 passing yards.
Once again Oregon should be able to roll up yards and points against Washington State. Washington State does not appear to have made much progress in the last 12 months on offense. The running game is worse, as expected, but the passing game has seemingly regressed. Against an aggressive, fast Duck defense, they will struggle to maintain drives and score points. They do not have the firepower to outscore Oregon's offense. Look for Oregon to gain over 500 yards with at least 250 rushing yards again. Also look for the offense to more closely resemble what Duck fans saw in the first half against Arkansas State.
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