Washington State head coach Mike Leach has graced the Pac-12 with his presence and entertaining press conferences since 2012. Before arriving in Pullman, Leach coached the Texas Tech Red Raiders in a then-competitive Big 12 Conference where he was quite successful. Overall, at Tech, Leach went 84-43 from 2000 until 2009, when he was relieved of his duties. Over the course of those 10 seasons, Leach did not once have a losing year.
After a couple of lackluster seasons to begin his Cougar coaching career, Leach has turned Washington State around. The Cougars are now a force in the Pac-12 and a team that puts every superior opponent on upset alert. One of the opponents on the wrong side of an upstart Leach-Led football team has been the Oregon Ducks.
Heading into the 2019 season, Washington State has a four-game winning streak against the Ducks, something that hasn’t happened since the early 80s. Last season, Leach and the Cougars put a stranglehold on the Ducks’ season in a College Gameday matchup that Washington State largely dominated. The Ducks entered Pullman ranked 12th in the AP Poll and feeling good after an overtime win against the Washington Huskies. However, Leach stumped the Ducks and exposed their weaknesses on both sides of the ball.
Before Leach gave the Cougar football program a little bit of TLC, the Ducks owned this matchup by winning eight games in a row from 2008 to 2014. Leach took the lead role in 2012, but Washington State didn’t fully become Leach’s program until 2015, when a majority of the players on the roster were Leach’s recruits. That year, Wazzu began its streak by shocking the Ducks at Autzen in an early season, overtime win.
Until last season, excuses were made on behalf of the Ducks that Leach and the Cougars had not beaten Oregon with a top-tier quarterback under center. The argument was that, in essence, the Cougars were getting the “B” version of the Ducks’ offense.
In 2015, Jeff Lockie took the snaps to replace the injured Vernon Adams Jr. In 2016, we saw the bust that was Dakota Prukop in a losing effort in Pullman, and of course, Braxton Burmeister made his first career start in place of then-injured Justin Herbert in 2017. There are no excuses for last year’s loss, with a healthy Herbert leading Oregon.
No More Clotting?
In an article published by 247Sports, writer Erik Skopil gives a “Way-Too-Early Score Prediction” of the upcoming 2019 game against Washington State. The article used three different score predictions from three of their experts. Each of the three score predictions have the Ducks coming out victorious over Wazzu, but with no prediction having the Ducks win by more than 14 points.
I tend to agree that the Ducks will come out victorious this year due to the amount of player turnover the Cougars have had this offseason and the departure of quarterback Gardner Minshew III. Having said that, I would not chalk this one up as a “W” just yet.
In the aforementioned eight-game winning streak the Ducks had over Wazzu, most fans wrote the matchup off as a win because Ducks fan would see, for the most part, an uninspired effort from their opponent year after year.
Leach has transformed Washington State from pretender to contender in the Pac-12, and the program is slowly working its way onto the national stage. He is also the reason Ducks’ fans shouldn’t mark down a win in 2019 just yet. In recent years, he has been able to point out and expose glaring issues in the Oregon systems.
For instance, last year, Leach exposed the Ducks’ offense, especially in the first half by holding the Ducks to a paltry 34 total yards. The Ducks came out in the second half with a different game plan, which yielded 20 points, but it was too little, too late.
If the Ducks are going to beat Leach and the Washington State Cougars, they are going to need to be less predictable. Leach was able to take away last year’s number-one target Dillon Mitchell, and he will do that again if Oregon doesn’t get creative.
Last year’s game was also a coming out party for Minshew and the Wazzu offense, taking a 27-0 lead into halftime with a bolstering 295 yards. Leach will have two upperclassmen quarterbacks to work with this year in Gage Gudrub and Anthony Gordon. Gordon is a senior and has been around the Leach system for a while; if his number is called, he could pose a threat.
The bottom line is, the most important person on Washington State’s sideline is Leach. He has had the Ducks’ number for the past four seasons and has been able to frustrate the Oregon sidelines and fans. For the Ducks to make a run in the Pac-12 North, they need to get over the hump that is Leach.
Oregon has had the more talented team year in and year out, but it is useless if someone is there to stop that talent in its tracks. With many returners coming back for the Ducks, this is essentially Leach’s second look at a very similar team from last season. On paper, the Ducks have the stronger team this year and can put an end to this losing streak, but I would absolutely not sleep on Leach.
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.
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