Another weekend is upon us and it’s time to take stock of teams that are up, down or right there in the middle. One of the teams listed in today’s report has a bye this week, but the same issues might be present this coming Thursday.
Oregon Ducks – Injuries and defensive concerns galore
Give credit to Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, but his performance did raise concerns with the Oregon defense. For the Oregon Ducks, last Saturday’s game against the Washington State Cougars was a battle that wasn’t won until the last minutes of the game. Washington State scored first and though the Ducks quickly caught up, the Cougars never gave them a chance to run away with the game as they are prone to do. Though the game ended in a “W” for the Ducks, it also revealed a few worrisome things, namely the Ducks’ defense and the impact of injuries on the offensive line.
On the offensive side of the ball, what was supposed to be one of the Ducks’ biggest strengths has instead turned into a concern, as the corps of offensive linemen has been decimated from an onslaught of injuries. With little choice, the Ducks started a true freshman and a former walk-on (starting in his first game) at tackle. The inexperience of the line showed as Oregon struggled to give Marcus Mariota time to throw, which caused him to be pressured constantly and sacked seven times. As a testament to his talent and skills, he was still 21-of-25 for 329 yards, with no interceptions and five touchdowns while rushing 58 yards on 13 attempts.
The high number of sacks could be attributed to Washington State playing cover zero for most of the game and at times straight out jailhouse blitzing. Having at least one starting tackle with some experience would have helped Mariota tremendously. The Ducks, thankfully, have a bye this week and next play the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday, Oct 2nd. There is a chance that Oregon will have injured tackle Jake Fisher back for the game, and you have to hope that having had some experience on the field will help the younger players.
Defensively, Oregon couldn’t get pressure on WSU quarterback Connor Halliday for much of the game, and he went 42-of-63 for 436 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Oregon sacked Halliday only once. The Ducks employed a three man rush, dropping eight into coverage, for most of the game, which brought no pressure on Halliday. Halliday’s one and only sack occurred at a critical juncture in the fourth quarter when the Ducks finally blitzed on fourth and long. Possession went to the Ducks, who played keep away from the Cougars for the remainder of the game.
Washington State Cougars and Connor Halliday
As stated above, Halliday had a good showing in the Cougars’ game against the Ducks. He was calm throughout the entire game and didn’t let the pressure rattle him. Washington State still has a lot of problems they need to figure out, but if the Cougars’ offense can play as they did Saturday against the rest of their schedule, they can still turn things around.
I said a few weeks ago that one of Washington State’s problems was finishing strong. While they seem to have worked on that, it is a work in progress. Those last few minutes in a tough game need to fill the players with confidence in themselves. Mike Leach can do good things at Washington State, but after three years he needs to do something big before his seat gets any warmer.
Utah Utes, Travis Wilson and the fan who stayed
Utah is off to its best start in a few years as the Utes are 3-0 heading into the match against Washington State. The Utes used last weekend’s Michigan game — which was delayed for almost two and a half hours — as their coming out party. While the Michigan Wolverines might not be that great a team this year, the Utes’ effort and performance, led by quarterback Travis Wilson, can’t be denied.
Wilson, who has a history of concussions that almost forced him to retire, was unstoppable even after suffering a scary first half hit. Throughout the night, he was 14-of-20 for 172 yards and one touchdown. In a effort to minimize the possibility of Wilson getting hurt once again, the Utes have taken to the air and it seems to be working out for them.
The Utah fans have to be applauded for sticking around for two and a half hours to watch the end of the game. Yes, they were winning against a team they were expected to lose against, but waiting that long while the field flooded is something to applaud.
Two of the three teams in this list — Utah and WSU — meet tomorrow. Let’s hope that they continue their upward trend and that the Oregon Ducks can use this bye to regroup from injuries and a hard-fought win over the Cougars.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove