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Seventh-ranked Ducks play host to Cougars

Washington State looks to regroup this weekend ranked Oregon Ducks in a Pac-12 clash.

Washington State's bowl aspirations were dealt a blow last weekend in Seattle, where the Cougars dropped a 44-21 contest to Oregon State, which had entered the game with just one win all season. The Cougars struggled to find an identity on offense all evening long, and now must win three of the last five games to qualify for their first bowl since 2003. The Cougars will travel to California next weekend.

Oregon is already bowl eligible, and is hungry to stay sharp and to stay in the Pac-12 title hunt. The Ducks played without their two best offensive players in LaMichael James and Darron Thomas last weekend against Colorado, but nonetheless turned in a dominant defensive performance in the 45-2 win. Oregon has won six straight, and following its meeting with Washington State this weekend, will travel to Washington and Stanford in the following two weeks, a stretch that could be pivotal in the conference standings.

Oregon leads the all-time series with Washington State, 43-38-7.

Washington State quarterback's Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael combined to go 21-of-33 for 232 yards and one touchdown and one interception, and the Cougars rushed for just 83 yards on 29 carries. Tuel was re-inserted to the lineup against Stanford two weeks ago after missing the previous four due to injury, and he has thrown for 272 yards and one touchdown in two games back. Lobbestael served as the replacement in Tuel's absence, and has completed 135- of-211 passes for 1,739 yards for 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. Washington State averages 313,1 yards passing per game, good for tenth in the country and second in the Pac-12. Marquess Wilson is third in the league in receiving yards per game (109), and has caught six touchdowns this season. The running attack ranks eighth in the Pac-12, averaging 120.4 yards per game; Rickey Gavin leads the team in rushing at a clip of 50.8 yards per game, but has just 48 yards on 11 carries in the last two games.

"Offensively, I think, they're much improved," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "They've obviously played two quarterbacks, I was really impressed with Jeff Tuel last year, obviously he went down early. but Marshall Lobbestael has done a really, really good job at filling in for him."

The Cougars gave up 551 yards of total offense last weekend to Oregon State, including 376 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Washington State ranks eighth in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 406.2 yards per game, and are giving up 30.4 points per contest (including 88 in the last two games against Stanford and Oregon State.) The Cougars are also giving up 264.4 yards per game through the air, and have struggled to get consistent pressure this season, ranking 81st nationally in sacks per game (1.5) and tied for 85th in tackles for loss per game (five). Damante Horton is tied for third in the Pac-12 with three interceptions. Alex Hoffman-Ellis leads the team in tackles (50) and tackles for loss (seven).

"I think they're an improved football team. They've lost a couple close games recently," said Kelly. "Physical defense. And they're playing good football right now."

Oregon has certainly missed James the past two weeks on the offensive side of the football, and the Ducks were also without Thomas at quarterback last weekend against Colorado, after Thomas went down with a leg injury against Arizona State. The offense went about its business as usual, as Bryan Bennett played mistake free at quarterback (11-of-20 for 156 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions) and running game produced 371 yards rushing. Oregon is sixth in the country in total offense (537.2), and fourth in both rushing (323) and scoring (48.1.)

As for Thomas and James, its still unclear whether each will play against Washington State this weekend. What is clear is that the Ducks need the playmaking ability of both players back at some point this season; Thomas is ninth in the country passing efficiency (163.4), and has accounted for 1,343 yards of total offense with 19 touchdowns this season. James led the country in rushing before is arm injury sustained in the UCLA, and has rushed for 852 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Kenjon Barner has played well all season at running back for the Ducks, and the past two weeks has posted 171 and 115 yards rushing and three touchdowns. DeAnthony Thomas has rushed for 123 yards and two scores the past two weeks as well, and leads the team in receiving with 23 catches for 328 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Oregon leads the country in net punting (45.0) and the defense clearly won the field -position battle last weekend against Colorado. Oregon held the Buffaloes to just 133 yard passing and 98 yards rushing, and overall, rank sixth in the Pac-12 in total defense (387.1), and allow just 20.2 points per game. Oregon is 16th in the country in sacks per game (2.8) and 26th in tackles for loss (7.2). Josh Kaddu ranks third in the league with five sacks, and has posted seven total tackles for loss. John Boyett and Deitt Stuckey have anchored the back seven with 44 and 43 tackles respectively. Star cornerback Cliff Harris was suspended indefinitely by head coach Chip Kelly on Tuesday, and will be out of the lineup against Washington State.