Keys to the WSU Game That FishDuck is Watching For…

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Analysis

The Cougars of Washington State have a good team that has beaten both Wisconsin and Oregon State, but as a season progresses–teams figure out weaknesses from prior games, thus WSU has some exposed deficiencies that Oregon will attack. In fact I am quite confident that the Beavers, if they knew now what they did not know going into their contest in the Palouse–would decisively beat Washington State with the tactics revealed in the last two games. Let’s take a look at what Mr. FishDuck is watching for in today’s game…

When Oregon is on Defense…

The Cougars had a weak running game in the first four games, but the run-blocking has crumbled in the last two games. Against UCLA and Arizona combined–WSU only ran for a total of 24 yards! My Duck-Buddies, that is about as bad as it gets. Even pass-happy Mike Leach had enough balance with the running game to keep opponents honest during his time in Pullman. Thus opponents this year figured out they could drop eight into coverage and create scoring issues for Washington State, and that is precisely what occurred in the last two games, thus I expect to see the Ducks do much of the same.

Yet the Oregon defense has shown a weakness against running quarterbacks as Cam Ward of the Cougars, and Drake Maye of North Carolina hurt us badly with their scrambles last year, while Tyler Shough ran roughshod for big yards in our game this year with Texas Tech. Thus I anticipate a “controlled rush” where outside defenders are trying to collapse the pocket inside, to keep Ward from taking off.  The top screenshot of this article is an example, and I would anticipate a “Spy” assigned to Ward to prevent the big third-down runs. Bryce Boettcher or Devon Jackson have excellent speed, and either could keep the Cougar quarterback contained in that role.

Pressure can come from unexpected directions, as these “Simulated Pressures:” are an overload on one side. (Screenshot from Fox Sports Video)

A tactic I expect to see that worked last year was “Simulated Pressures” which brought havoc to the WSU QB, but also allowed Oregon to drop seven and only rush four. The purpose is to disguise where the four are coming from, thus overload one side of the offensive line. Above you see how a linebacker would join three other rushers on the left side of the Duck defense to overwhelm the three blockers versus four Oregon rushers on the Cougar right side of the LOS. Not only do I expect to see these Simulated Pressures, but I believe with a year of implementing them–the Ducks will be better at carrying out their assignments.

When Oregon is on Offense…

We got a good primer on the Cougar defense last year from FishDuck writer, DazeNconfused, who explained the basics of their defense with its own advantages and disadvantages. Washington State primarily runs a “Cover-1” defense, and a “Man-Free” concept, where the they utilize man-to-man coverage, have the free safety play deep, and respond with help immediately to the corners. This defense puts another defender closer into the box, and thus the extra defender can cut off sweeps, the outside zone, screens, along with taking away the shorter passing routes such as the slants.

We will see them doing run-blitzes, where they are trying to blow up plays and create the TFL, (Tackle-for-Loss) rather than try to defeat superior blocking with smaller trench defenders. You will recall how last year near the end of the first half-this defense frustrated the Ducks as running laterally got stuffed near the goal line. Because their man-to-man assignments are easy to identify during the pre-snap, they are able to pursue that much faster without reading any keys. Thus running the ball in the first half might be tough-sledding, and I wonder if Coach Stein will come out throwing to loosen things up?

Washington State with their riskier one-high safety. (Screenshot from Fox Sports Video)

Last year Oregon defeated the WSU man-to-man coverage with tremendous plays by our receivers getting open in the mid-range and deep Bird-Bombs, thus the long-ball may return to the Oregon offense this week. In the 2022 game we had players begin to emerge, such as Troy Franklin and Bucky Irving catching the ball, while this year are much more polished performers. When I consider the depth of the receiver corps–the Ducks are well positioned to capitalize, especially with Duck quarterback Bo Nix throwing for over three-quarters of his passes complete.

The lack of a Cougar running game extended their prior two games, and limited the possession time for Washington State. Hence we saw a crazy number of plays that that WSU had to survive on defense as Arizona ran 81 plays on offense, and the Bruins had an incredible 98 plays to churn out points. If the same scenario develops in this game–I expect to see the Cougar defense begin the wear out in the second half, and frankly–giving Oregon that many plays on offense shouts scoring a boatload of points. Fun to watch for!

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Charles Fischer  (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Screenshot from Fox Sports Video

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