WSU

WSU visits No. 9 Oregon with both coming off disappointing losses

Oct 20, 2023, 12:16 PM

WSU Cougars Nakia Watson...

WSU running back Nakia Watson rushes past Arizona safety Gunner Maldonado in 2022. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Oregon and WSU head into Saturday’s game hurting from disappointing losses.

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The Cougars were undefeated and ranked as high as No. 13 in the AP Top 25 earlier this season following a victory at home against Oregon State. But Washington State lost its next two, first a 25-17 loss to UCLA in Pasadena and then last weekend’s 44-6 rout by Arizona in Pullman, dropping the Cougars (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) out of the rankings and altering the trajectory of their season.

They’ll head to Autzen Stadium on Saturday to play the No. 9 Ducks (5-1, 2-1), who are likewise coming off a loss, 36-33 to rival Washington last weekend.

“The challenge is real, especially going to their place. But what an exciting time to get back on track for us, what a good time to go into a harsh environment and prove who we are and show our fight as a program,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

It will indeed be a challenge. Despite the loss to the Huskies, Oregon’s offense remains potent, ranked No. 1 in the nation with an average of 553.3 yards a game. The Ducks have 37 offensive touchdowns, ranked No. 3.

While he was criticized for his failed fourth-down attempts against No. 5 Washington, Oregon coach Dan Lanning said he’s looking forward with the big picture in mind. Asked what he thought about first after waking up Sunday following the loss, he quipped that the question assumed that he’d slept.

“Played a tough game against a team that went down the wire and you evaluate and assess every single situation that shows up in that game, and then you say, ‘OK, now how can I build off this and learn off of it?’” Lanning said. “That’s always gonna be my mindset, what can I learn and where can we improve as a team?”

FOURTH DOWN FALLOUT

Oregon’s failed fourth-down attempts against the Huskies put Lanning’s play-calling under the microscope.

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“Here’s the hard part, when you sit in this seat, when I make decisions: I’m a big boy, I can handle criticism. That’s going to come and it’s deserved in this position. That’s the way it works,” Lanning said. “I trust our players. I trust our coaches. When we have opportunities to win games, I’m going to be aggressive to win games.”

He stood by his decision to go for it on fourth down at the end of the game. The Ducks tried on fourth-and-3 from the Huskies’ 47. Quarterback Bo Nix’s pass was incomplete and two plays later, Washington scored on Michael Penix Jr.’s winning TD pass. Oregon had another shot in the final seconds, but Camden Lewis’ 43-yard field goal try on the final play was wide right.

Lanning also said his decision on a failed attempt just before halftime could have gone either way. Again, Oregon went into the game planning to be aggressive.

“What’s tough is when I make those decisions, it doesn’t just affect me. It affects everybody in our program, it affects everybody that cares about Oregon football and I understand that. Like I said, I’m deserved of the criticism,” he said. “But it’s not like those decisions are made on Saturday in that moment.”

QUALITY QUARTERBACKS

On Oregon’s side is Nix, a Heisman hopeful who is averaging 299.3 yards passing a game — third in the league behind Penix and Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders — and has 17 total touchdowns.

Next in line for average yards is Washington State’s Cameron Ward, who has 296.5 yards a game and has 14 TD passes. In a conference that has several of the top QBs in the nation, Ward’s yards per game still rank him 12th nationally.

While Dickert said this week he thought sometimes Ward could be hesitant, Washington State’s offense is not broken.

“I know the last two results have not been anywhere close to where we want it to be. And I think that’s a reasonable thing to say. But it’s still the same pieces to the puzzle that no one thought three weeks ago, we weren’t scoring points,” Dickert said. “So let’s get back to that feeling. Let’s understand the things that made us successful.”

ADDISON STEPS AWAY

Oregon safety Bryan Addison is not currently with the team. Lanning said he was “taking a break for himself for personal reasons.”

Addison, a sixth-year senior, started Oregon’s first four games. He has 11 tackles and an interception this season.

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