A tall task for the Cougars against second-ranked Oregon
WSU (1-2) vs. No. 2 Oregon (3-0)
• Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Martin Stadium
• Radio: AM 770 KTTH
• Line: Ducks by 24
What’s at stake: A chance to start the reclamation project on the 2014 season for the Cougars, who are 1-2 after losses to Rutgers and Nevada and a 59-21 win over Portland State last Saturday. For the Ducks, another win will help them maintain their No. 2 national ranking in hopes of qualifying for the four-team championship playoff at the end of the year.
Why the Cougars might win: Well, this could be a short section for even the most optimistic Washington State fans. It would be a non-existent section for cynics. I’ll play along because I think if the Cougars and Ducks played 100 times, the Cougs would win once or twice.
It’s easy to think the Cougs will be blown out because it seems like Oregon blows everyone out. But the Ducks are 0-4 against the spread in their last four games against Washington State, including a 62-38 win last year in Eugene.
Remember that one? Connor Halliday set an NCAA record with 89 passing attempts, enraging Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Alliotti, who is now a Pac-12 Network analyst. Alliotti called Mike Leach “low class” for keeping his starters in and instructing Halliday to keep throwing it against the Ducks’ scout team late in the game.
Maybe you don’t think the Cougs can win, but they’ve got a shot to beat the spread and lose by less than 24, don’t they?
The Ducks rank 97th in the country in passing yards allowed while the Cougs are averaging 573 yards a game with Halliday throwing it all over the lot.
Oregon will have a hard time stopping Isiah Myers, who has 26 receptions for 423 yards and five touchdowns in his first three games. The Cougars also have three other receivers – Vince Mayle, River Cracraft and Dom Williams – who average at least 80 receiving yards each.
Defensively, it’s hard to picture the Cougars stopping the Ducks, who have scored 43 points or more in the last seven games against WSU. But maybe the absence of injured left tackle Jake Fisher will help the Cougars’ pass rush on Marcus Mariota.
Keep in mind, too, that this is Oregon’s first road game after playing three in a row at Autzen Stadium. And Martin Stadium will be sold out. Plus it should be as loud as it’s ever been with the football facility now enclosing the west end zone.
Then there’s this: Students and alums should be good and lubricated with plenty of time to tailgate all day and should make their presence known to the Ducks.
Here are two other things to consider, and I admit to reaching big-time with these points:
• Mariota is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, and when you’re on the cover of that magazine, you’re usually jinxed in your next game.
• The Cougars are wearing white helmets for the first time in this game, which means they’re unbeaten when they wear white helmets.
I’m also hoping the Cougs are better than we think they are. They beat Portland State &ndash which lost to Oregon State 29-14 &ndash by 38 points.
And the two teams they lost to might be pretty good. Rutgers is 2-1 and gave Penn State a fight before losing 13-10 last week; and Nevada lost by only a 35-28 score at Arizona last Saturday.
Why the Cougars might lose: For starters, Oregon is the vastly superior team. Mariota should have his way with the Cougars’ secondary. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. On the other side of the ball, Halliday will have to look out for Erick Dargan, who leads the Ducks with three interceptions.
Next week’s game at Utah looms as more pivotal than this one. With a probable loss to the Ducks, the Cougars will fall to 1-3 and travel to Salt Lake City for a must-win if they hope to play in a bowl game.
Prediction: Ducks 45, Cougars 35.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and KitsapSun.com. You can reach Jim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.