(Publisher Note: Can you believe our FishDuck Friend DazeNconfused writing an article through incredible pain during recovery from major spinal surgery? This was not asked for, but he has a passion for Our Beloved Ducks and this FishDuck community, and I cannot thank him enough!)
In only three games, the Oregon Ducks’ season has experienced the lowest of lows and highest of highs. After the opening-game drubbing at the hands of Georgia, the Ducks have ended week three with a convincing win over No. 12 BYU at home. Can Oregon go on the road to Washington State and record a big win to continue their upward trajectory?
There are some key reasons that the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
Bo Nix’s Experience
Kenny Dillingham has shown he is a Quarterback Whisperer. Bo Nix has elevated his level of play this year, and is now knocking on the door of being an elite QB. Dillingham has created a scheme to emphasize Nix’s strengths, and he has Nix avoiding mistakes and negative plays.
Nix has played in bigger venues than the Palouse, and in much bigger games. That the Ducks historically have had tough times in Pullman won’t faze Nix, and he won’t let it faze his team. Nix will be the better quarterback on Saturday.
Ward’s Second Quality FBS Opponent
Cameron Ward, the Cougars’ QB, is a former FCS star who has transferred and moved up to the FBS level, but he hasn’t been as good for the Cougars as he was at the lower level.
In fact, the one quality Power-5 team Ward has played is Wisconsin. In that game he led his team to just 17 points, going 17 of 28 in completions with 200 passing yards, while throwing two interceptions with only one TD. Ward is now facing the pressure and home crowd expectations in the biggest game of his career. And against the most talented defensive unit he has encountered? I expect Ward to have some struggles.
Talent Level Greatly Favors Ducks
According to the 247 Sports team recruit rankings, the Ducks have 52 blue-chip players, ranking first in the Pac-12, while the Cougars have no blue-chip recruits and rank eighth in the conference. The talent level on the field is dramatically slanted the Ducks’ way, as will become apparent over the course of the game.
The Ducks’ offensive line has been lauded since preseason as one of the top units in all of college football. Led by senior center Alex Forsyth, the OL was graded out as the best pass blocking unit in college football after last week’s game against BYU. (Has that ever happened to an Oregon offensive line in the past?) Adding to that impressive accomplishment, the Ducks’ OL is one of only four FBS units to have not allowed a sack this season.
Oregon’s OL will have to continue its great play this weekend. The Washington State defense has been wreaking havoc in opposing teams’ backfields all season. The Cougars lead the Pac-12 in both tackles for loss with 30 and sacks with 14. We can expect the Cougars will game plan to bring pressure every way they can, as they will not want Nix to sit back and pick them apart.
We have seen the Dan Lanning staff developing and improving the players physically and mentally in a dramatically short period of time. You can have all the blue-chips you want, but if you don’t develop them they don’t account for much. Oregon fans are watching the development occur on a weekly basis. I expect to see more growth from a surprising player or two this week, as we’ve witnessed the last two weeks.
We have seen the Ducks improve in each phase of the game each week as well. Lanning has instilled a growth mindset with his team, and the Ducks’ biggest competition this week will be meeting their own expectations.
Wazzu will be facing the most explosive offense they have seen all year — by far. This Oregon unit is going to put more stress on all parts of the field than the Cougars will face perhaps this entire season. Unlike the basic scheme that was required to stop the bland Wisconsin offense, the Ducks will provide all kinds of problems. This is a balanced Oregon offense that has shown they can move the ball in unpredictable ways, often surprising the fans as well as the opposing coaches. (C’mon…who saw the I-Formation coming?)
The Ducks’ Run Defense
The Cougars are not a great running team in the best of circumstances, but they will have particular difficulty picking up yards on the ground against the Ducks. The Cougars ran for a paltry 53 yards with a 2.4 yard per carry average against Wisconsin. In the other two games against weaker opponents, Washington State ran for an average of just 145 yards per game. The inability to establish the run against Oregon will make them one-dimensional. Look for the Duck defense to emerge in some new ways in the Palouse on Saturday.
The Palouse will be packed and rocking when this game kicks off at 1pm Saturday. We will see the Cougars flying around early, trying to feed off the crowd’s energy to create momentum. Wisconsin put up 174 yards rushing against the Cougars, a 4-yard per carry clip. I expect the Ducks will look to settle into the game early by taking over the line of scrimmage and running the ball. They will want to keep ahead of the chains with short third downs, to keep the Cougars pass rush at bay. I’ll also be watching for Dillingham to take a few deep shots if the Cougars stack defenders in the box to slow down the run game.
Washington State has everything to play for. A win over Oregon would vault them into the Top 25 and the Pac-12 title conversation. But try as they might, the Cougars will fall short of that goal and lose to the Ducks, as Oregon just has too much talent. The Cougars’ defense, as good as is, isn’t the Georgia defense. The Ducks will grind down this Cougars team, and send a message to the rest of the Pac-12 that Oregon learned a thing or two in week one against Georgia.
Superior talent with good coaching wins 99 times out of 100, and sometimes it’s not an even a fair fight.
What’s your thought on this matchup? Duck fans, please share your thoughts in the OBD FORUM!
Top Photo: Courtesy of WSU Athletics
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.
I was born a Cali kid and my uncle is a USC Alum. Remember going to an SC game when I was like 5 with him. I moved to Oregon in 77 when I was 6 and became a Duck fan long ago. I remember Reggie Ogburn OB days, so it was before the Ducks got good. I’ve been a sports nut since I was a kid.
I went to Tigard High about the same time as linebacker Jeremy Asher did, and I watched him team with Rich Ruhl on the inside of the Gang Green defense.
Lots of Ducks memories, Danny O’Neil’s passing in 1st Rose Bowl, Kenny Wheaton, Joey’s comebacks early in his career and how jacked up he got!
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