The Ducks narrowly escaped Pullman, Wash. with a road win against the Washington State Cougars last Saturday on a day that will be remembered as “Survivor Saturday.” Along with Florida State, Alabama, and Oklahoma, the Ducks faced an opponent inferior on paper, yet all four of the nation’s top teams legitimately looked like an upset was very much in the cards. In the end, they all remained undefeated, but arguably none of these teams looked like a national champion-to-be.
The Ducks are not exempt from this grouping, though their performance against Washington State hardly represents what they’re capable of. After all, it was less than three weeks ago that the Ducks, riding a stingy defense and an explosive offense, made a huge statement in a convincing win over Michigan State.
Watching them regress into a team trading touchdowns with Washington State — the only PAC-12 team that was yet to win an FBS game — was surely concerning for Ducks fans and head-scratching for others. On offense, it started with a revolving door of an offensive line that is without its top three tackles. The inexperience showed against Washington State, as Marcus Mariota was sacked seven times and would’ve taken a few more if not for some crucial scrambles and evasions.
On the other side of the ball, Cougar quarterback Connor Halliday lit up the Ducks’ defense with 436 passing yards and four touchdowns, prompting Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olumu to admit afterwards, “This was definitely not my night. They got me.”
Judging by the collective post-game demeanor, you wouldn’t have thought the Ducks won the game, but they did, although not convincingly. Regardless, the Ducks are now 4-0 and their current bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.
Although the Ducks’ coaches have been vague about the injuries to offensive tackles Jake Fisher and Andre Yruretagoyena, there is a good chance that at least one of them can get back on the field in the coming weeks. Fisher declined to comment on his status for the Arizona game, but he did practice Wednesday and Thursday, according to Ryan Thorburn of the Register Guard. Yruretagoyena appears to be a bit farther from returning. Tyson Alger of The Oregonian reported seeing him with crutches and a cast on his leg at Thursday’s practice.
Not only does this bye week give Fisher and Yruretagoyena extra time to recover, but the remaining offensive linemen also have extra time to practice as a unit – something they desperately need. Although the Ducks aren’t exactly facing a dominant defense in Arizona this coming Thursday, the pass protection needs work. Guard Hamani Stevens said on Wednesday the O-line has focused a lot of their attention on communication during the off week.
“There were a lot of mistakes that could have been fixed with communication,” Stevens said. “We’re just trying to merge as a unit and play well together.”
The memory of last season’s shocking loss to Arizona on the road is still fresh in many people’s minds. There will be no shortage of motivation for the game, though the Ducks won’t be able to rely on that alone. We’ll have to wait and see how well the Ducks prepare for Thursday’s game, but from the looks of it, they’ve made great use of their bye week thus far.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline