“Coug-it” Discussion: Can Oregon Side-Step the Mental Minefield?

Charles Fischer Editorials 207 Comments

The curiosity component in playing the Cougars seems to be bigger this year than the vast majority of contests with Washington State in the past. There are so many interesting questions on both offense and defense, and frankly, concerning what is in the minds of our young Beloved Ducks, that I would suggest that the drama unfolding tonight is going to be fascinating.

Are They Mentally Prepared?

When Oregon played in its second national championship at the end of the 2014 season, it marked an end of a short era of a plethora of big games for Oregon. The Ducks went to the Rose Bowl following the 2009 season, and then went on to two national championship games and a ton of BCS bowl games and Rose Bowls. The players were mentally hardened from all of the tough games and getting everyone’s best shots, as they knew that after winning a big game — there would be a natural letdown in the next matchup.

Every team, it seems, has to learn that the hard way, and the question is: can Oregon can overcome that hurdle versus Mike Leach? This is not necessarily a young team, but it is an inexperienced team in dealing with the mental challenges that championship teams, those that reside in the top 15 in the nation, are accustomed to on a regular basis. I love the culture that Coach Mario Cristobal is building, but the truth is — he has not experienced it before either, as this last weekend was his biggest win.

Gary Breedlove

Even Marcus Mariota’s Ducks had to fight to a narrow 38-31 victory over the Cougars.

We will get clues as the game progresses as we watch for the energy level and the body language of the players. We all remember about 15 years ago beating Michigan at home and being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and truly laying a Duck egg the next week against the Cougars. I was there, and it was awful; it is a risk factor that is all mental.Will the Washington State contest be Oregon’s trap game this season?

On Defense: Attack or Zone-It?

Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos has a a tough choice to make in how he is going to try to slow down Washington State. I can vouch after years of yelling at the television that trying to attack the Cougars with blitzes can be very difficult, because WSU quarterbacks are taught to throw the ball quickly. It is actually quite rare to get a sack against a team that runs the Air Raid offense, and that puts a ton of pressure on the Duck defensive backs.

Yet, if you sit back in zone defenses — however assorted — WSU will pick you apart, as every team tries to mix zone defenses, and Mike Leach has witnessed every countermeasure to his offense over the years between his time at Texas Tech and Washington State.

Kevin Cline

The Ducks will need a ton of passes tipped away …

What is the best approach defensively for Oregon considering our personnel and experience on defense?

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Which Offensive Approach Do You Take Against Mike Leach?

On offense, Oregon may have more possibilities for winning strategies then in many years. The reason is because this team is beginning to find its scoring groove and potentially could put up big points if they wanted to, while relying on a stingy defense to hold the Cougars down. Do you take that approach and be prepared to outscore them with the understanding that you may need to anyway if the Cougars get hot on Rich Brooks field?

Or do you try to take the air out of the football and dominate the time of possession and score sparingly while keeping WSU’s Air Raid offense off the field? It seems you would need to coordinate game plans with the defensive staff as well. The point is, Oregon has options on offense due to their continued growth, but also because the Cougars have shown some weakness on defense thus far this season.

The comparative winning scores over Colorado in back to back weeks would suggest that the Cougars can play head-to-head evenly with the Ducks at this moment. (Naw!) Nonetheless …what should Oregon’s offensive game plan be for this game?

Kevin Cline

We would like to see Mike Leach leave the field in a grumpy mood …

Yep, I posed a ton of questions to ponder and since we have quite a stretch before game time, let’s dig in and discuss before-during-and-after the game. My own thoughts are; I think this team is vulnerable to overconfidence after last week. On offense, I think it’s fine to grind on the running game, but I really believe we will need to score at least 35 points to win. So I say … Marcus Arroyo needs to go for it!

On defense, the choices are bad-or-bad and Leach loves both options for his opponents. Since it is so hard to get a sack on the Cougars, I would rotate among different zone defenses and some occasional blitzes overloading one side or the other of which is disguised in advance. (Like a Fire Zone Blitz? My videos are still being viewed 24/7 on average!)

Tomorrow we will have quite a treat as one of our favorite writers, Darren Perkins, is in Eugene visiting from his home in Spokane. Since FishDuck.com is media credentialed by University of Oregon — he will be in the Press Box preparing to interview The Pirate in the WSU Post-Game Press conference. If the game goes the way we believe, we should have some entertainment to read Sunday morning!

“Oh how we love to discuss our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer    (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                                                                              Top Photo by Kevin Cline

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