Eugene, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off a road victory over Washington last week, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks will face another team from the Evergreen State when the pass-happy Washington State Cougars step into Autzen Stadium for a Pac-12 matchup.
Turnovers absolutely destroyed Washington State last weekend. In a battle with another pass-heavy offense in Oregon State, Cougar quarterback Connor Halliday threw three interceptions in three straight drives, as the Beavers closed out a 52-24 victory on a 35-0 run.
"For two-thirds of the game I thought they played really well. For one-third of the game I thought they played about as bad as it's possible to play. It's inexplicable and we have to change it," Washington State head coach Mike Leach said after the game.
The loss was a difficult one for the Cougars, who have already topped their win total from a year ago, but are just 1-2 in league play. The loss was also the second in the last three games for the Cougars, who opened the year on a three-game winning streak.
"We just have to keep playing. It's as simple as that there's no magic formula," Leach added during his weekly press conference.
In a raucous Husky Stadium the Ducks faced one of their toughest challenges of the season last week. However, Marcus Mariota threw for 366 yards and three scores and rushed for 88 yards and another touchdown to lead Oregon to a 45-24 victory. The win was the 10th straight for the Ducks against Washington and the eighth straight overall.
The 6-0 Ducks have had a stranglehold on the No. 2 spot in the Top 25, where they have sat for the last six weeks. Oregon also got a boost in its quest for a Pac-12 title last week when Stanford lost to Utah. That leaves Oregon tied with Oregon State for the top spot in the Pac-12 North with a 3-0 record in league play.
With its dominance of the Pac-12 over the last decade, Oregon has enjoyed some rather lopsided series with league foes. Washington State has been one of those teams as the Ducks have won six straight games against the Cougars, including a 51-26 rout last year. Overall Oregon leads the all-time series 45-38-7.
Prior to the Oregon State game, Halliday looked to really be excelling in his second season in Leach's air-raid system. However, he has been unable to kick the bad habit he has had of forcing throws and making mistakes. Even though he has thrown for 2,241 yards and 14 touchdowns on 63.4 percent passing, Halliday's most telling statistic is his 13 interceptions. For a team that is averaging 54 passing attempts per game, that high a turnover rate isn't going to win many games.
Halliday has succeeded in spreading the wealth when he is completing passes. Gabe Marks (46 receptions, 512 yards, four TDs) has been the top receiver for the Cougars but he is one of 12 different players to have at least 10 receptions this year. Kristoff Williams (26 receptions, 254 yards) and Rickey Galvin (23 receptions, 194 yards) have been important as short-yardage, possession receivers, while Vince Mayle (14 receptions, 238 yards, five TDs) and Dominique Williams (16 receptions, 317 yards, three TDs) are the big-play threats. Williams however, is listed as questionable for Saturday's game.
Marcus Mason (198 yards, TD) and Jeremiah Laufasa (145 yards, six TDs) don't get much work as the team's top rushing options. However, Laufasa has been an important weapon near the goal line as he has the most touchdowns by a Washington State running back since 2007.
Since entering Pac-12 play the Cougars have seen diminishing production on defense after a strong start to the year. In the three conference games the Cougars are allowing 43 points and 581 yards per contest. Overall Washington State is ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in total defense (400.3 ypg) but has managed to remain afloat thanks to some opportunistic play. The Cougars are tied with the Ducks for the most forced turnovers this season (16).
For his efforts against Washington, Mariota was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second straight week. It probably won't be the last time. Mariota is putting up incredible numbers this season with 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air. Perhaps the most important stat is that he has not been guilty of a single interception. Making him all the more dangerous is Mariota's ability to make plays with his legs when his protection breaks down. Mariota has rushed for 426 yards and eight touchdowns and is averaging more than 10 yards per carry.
The offensive weapons that surround Mariota make Oregon, the second best offensive squad in the country (630.5 ypg), almost impossible to stop.
Byron Marshall (554 yards, six TDs), De'Anthony Thomas (338 yards, six TDs) and Thomas Tyner (261 yards, five TDs) are all talented players that give Oregon, which is third in the nation in rushing, fresh running backs on every down. Thomas was reported to be active last week but did not end up playing and is again listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
Then there is the one-two receiver punch of Josh Huff and Bralon Addison. On Saturday the pair were as impressive as ever with Huff bringing in six passes for 107 yards and a score and Addison adding eight catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Huff (27 receptions, 552 yards, five TDs) is listed as questionable for this week's game which could mean even more will be asked of Addison (27 receptions, 502 yards, six TDs).
While the incredible offensive numbers and talent on that side have been the norm for Oregon, few notice how well the Ducks play on defense. Oregon is allowing just 13.8 points and 338.7 yards per game this season. In fact the Ducks are leading the Pac-12 in both categories. Obviously the turnovers they have been able to force have been key as has the team's play in the red zone (five touchdowns allowed in 15 trips) and the pressure the Ducks get on opposing quarterbacks (16 sacks). It still isn't enough if you ask the players.
"We just hope to get more sacks, create more turnovers," Nose guard Wade Keliikipi said. "Hopefully we can provide enough pressure for the DBs to get some interceptions."