For any Oregon Duck fan who is stressed about the outcome of Oregon’s night game against Washington State on Saturday, you are not alone.
On paper, this isn’t a matchup that should give the No. 3 Ducks much trouble. They have more talent on the roster, a better coaching staff, and much more to play for at this point in the season. If you were to simulate the contest, Oregon would come out on top at least 90% of the time. However, as we wrote about earlier in the week, normal things don’t tend to happen when these two teams meet.
The last couple of games have been won by the Ducks, but one required a field goal as the clock expired. In four of the past six years, Washington State has come out victorious, and they’ve long been a team that has given Oregon problems, which led Mario Cristobal to say earlier this week that the Cougars are one of the Ducks’ biggest rivals.
So as I said earlier, not being overly confident about this outcome isn’t just timidness, it’s realism.
That being said, let’s try to parse together how this game will be played on the field. With the style of offense that both of these teams play, we can expect a relatively high-scoring game, especially if Anthony Brown and the Ducks start clicking. A week ago, we saw the passing game struggle mightily in a torrential downpour in Seattle, but the weather does not factor to be an issue on Saturday night, which would give the full playbook to Joe Moorhead and the team.
If Brown can avoid early mistakes, and the Ducks can find a way to mitigate Abe Lucas’s abilities, we can expect them to move the ball. The best way to do that is by going back to their bread and butter — utilizing an array of screen passes and short crossing routes while relying heavily on a mix of Travis Dye and Byron Cardwell out of the backfield.
Defense is another story for Oregon. Washington State is known as an air-raid team that will pass you to death, but the running backs on this team have stepped up in 2021, led by Max Borghi out of the backfield. If Borghi can get going, Washington State should feel good about Jayden de Laura’s ability to spread out the secondary and keep the defense true to the scheme. However, the Ducks have a great ability to stop that.
It starts with the pass rush. Assuming that Oregon’s front-seven can bottle up the Cougars’ rushing attack — the Ducks rank 2nd in the Pac-12 in run defense, allowing just 123 yards per game — then the emphasis will be on Oregon’s defensive line to get pressure on de Laura. Washington State has allowed only 7 sacks so far this season, but Oregon’s defensive line is among the best in the conference, and with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Bradyn Swinson coming around the edge, that could change.
If the Ducks are able to get substantial pressure on the QB, it makes the game that much easier for the secondary. Though they have been dealing with some injuries this year, there are still players like Verone McKinley, DJ James, and Mykael Wright back there highly capable of ball-hawking any passes that should go astray.
While concern about the outcome is reasonable, I’m here to try and calm the nerves of many Duck fans. Things could go sideways, as has happened before against the Cougars, but in reality, the Ducks are the far better team, and if they take care of their assignments and buy into the task at hand and avoid looking a week down the road to Utah, they should have no problem grabbing a commanding victory.
It could be close at times, but we’ve seen this Oregon team pull out tight victories on several occasions before. I have little doubt that they will come out on top in the end.