Matching up with the Cougars.
Earlier this year, UO coach Mike Bellotti said Kellen Clemens' troubles often stem from his feet not being set when he throws. Oregon's final possession last week illustrated that perfectly. Kicking off a 61-yard drive, Clemens got his feet firmly set and fired a laser to Cameron Colvin for a 27-yard gain. It was as accurate a pass as he has thrown all season. But the drive ended with three straight incompletions, the last thrown toward a wide-open Tim Day for a sure touchdown. But Clemens was scrambling on the throw, and the pass fell at Day's feet.
Washington State's Josh Swogger is playing despite a partially torn ligament in his right knee, continuing the tradition of playing through pain as previous WSU quarterbacks such as Jason Gesser and Matt Kegel did. He's big at 6-feet-5, 247 pounds. His backup, of course, is Sheldon High School alum Alex Brink.
Terrence Whitehead has been Oregon's best offensive player this season, and who would have guessed a month ago that would be the case? He's averaging better than five yards per carry, particularly impressive in light of the fact that his longest gain is just 22 yards. Kenny Washington could be Oregon's breakaway threat, but he's banged up. Bellotti said he'd like to get more touches for Dante Rosario this week.
Like Oregon's, the WSU running game is solid if unspectacular. Shockingly, senior starter Chris Bruhn is still looking for his first career rushing touchdown. Backups Allen Thompson and Jerome Harrison have each scored twice this season.
Finally, Oregon's leading receiver is actually a wide receiver, as opposed to a running back. That would be Demetrius Williams, though shoulder and toe injuries could preclude him from having a big day today. The fans would love to see Cameron Colvin get more touches, and though he is undeniably a big-time talent, he has issues with ball security in practice as well as games. At the last practice open to the media this week, on Tuesday, Clemens did actually hook up with a couple of his wideouts on long completions, a major failing point for the Ducks so far this season.
Jason Hill is averaging nearly 28 yards on his 15 receptions so far. How's this for production: He has seven receptions in his past two games, five for touchdowns. The Ducks would love that kind of opportunism from one of their receivers. Chris Jordan was supposed to be WSU's top wideout this year, but he is battling knee problems, and slot receiver Marty Martin will sit out today due to a shoulder separation, opening the door for highly touted freshman Michael Bumpus to start.
Like Rosario, UO tight end Tim Day is just too talented to touch the ball only once per game, as he did last week. Not that it's his fault - he was indeed open on that fourth-quarter play.
Troy Bienemann is the Cougars' leading receiver, but he has a deep bruise to his shin and will be limited today. Backup Cody Boyd is also out, with a separated shoulder, leading WSU coach Bill Doba to switch backup center Sean O'Connor to tight end this week for some depth. But according to the Seattle Times, the Cougars might just scrap the tight end altogether at times today and throw out of four- and five-receiver sets.
Bellotti said the Ducks were hurt by Arizona State's zone blitzes last week, despite having blocking schemes in place to combat them. If execution is the problem, it needs to be fixed this week. Oregon right tackle Robin Knebel injured his ankle against ASU and will miss two or three games, and Mike DeLaGrange needs to step up in his absence.
Once again, WSU fields a line worthy of a basketball team. Both guards are 6-7, the tackles are 6-8 and 6-9, and the center is the point guard of the group at 6-3. Height means long arms, and the UO defensive linemen will need to keep the Cougars from extending their arms to get leverage. But if the Ducks stay low, they can get under the taller linemen's pads. The Cougars actually aren't having a great year up front, having allowed 14 sacks, most in the Pac-10.
After missing last week with an ankle injury, Matt Toeaina should be ready to go today, Bellotti said. That's good news for the Ducks because Toeaina gives them a solid five-man rotation in the line. In his absence, David Faaeteete stepped in against ASU and maximized his efficiency - one play, one sack.
The Cougars are dealing with more injury problems on the defensive line. Steve Cook returns today after missing two games with a knee injury, but fellow tackle Ropati Pitoitua could be out with an ankle sprain. That leaves a freshman and a sophomore as starters. Backup end Matt Mullennix went down with a torn ACL in practice this week.
In two games since being called out by Bellotti, Anthony Trucks has 2 1/2 sacks. He is being used in blitz packages more often as the season progresses and led the team with seven tackles a week ago. Ramone Reed had six, and now leads the Ducks with 28 this season. With the Cougars so reliant on the pass, you might see the Ducks use their 3-4 front rather than the 4-3 more than usual.
Will Derting mans the middle of the field for the Cougars and has started all four games despite breaking a bone in his wrist during fall camp. He's complemented by Scott Davis, who has 27 tackles to Derting's 30. Davis has also recovered two of the eight fumbles forced by the Cougars this season.
In two straight games now the Ducks have surrendered a passing touchdown only to blame it on communication problems that left half the defense in one scheme and half in another. Fixing that will be even harder this week with their most experienced DB, senior Marley Tucker, out with a dislocated elbow. Oregon's corners played relatively well last week; they allowed some completions, but they were also sure tacklers, not allowing short gains to become big "explosion" plays as they did in years past. But two potential interceptions were dropped against ASU, and either would have provided a big momentum swing.
The backfield is a strength of the WSU defense, beginning with shutdown corner Karl Paymah. The Cougars are second in the Pac-10 in total defense, on the strength of allowing 158.8 passing yards per game.
Jared Siegel needs two field-goal attempts to tie the UO career record in that category, and if he makes both he'll also tie the record for successful field-goal attempts. The Cougars have the best punter in the Pac-10 in Kyle Basler. He has been named conference player of the week for special teams twice already this year, and two weeks ago he had an 87-yard punt at Arizona, second-longest in Pac-10 history.
Oregon's return game still needs work. The Ducks are ninth in the conference in both punt returns and kickoff returns. The coverage teams also haven't been great, with too many missed tackles last week against ASU. The Cougars have concerns at snapper, where tight end Bienemann and backup Riley Fitt-Chappell are both hurt. Reserve defensive end Adam West might handle the long snaps.
So the hot topic among Oregon fans this week is the play calling of UO offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Why is it every Joe Schmoe sitting on a couch or a barstool thinks he's an offensive genius? We don't know what plays are called, we don't know when Clemens has to audible, we don't know if receivers are running the correct routes, we don't know if the linemen are covering their assignments. The bottom line is, the players aren't executing right now. Why run a reverse if it's most likely going to be stuffed in the backfield? Why throw downfield if there's only about a 10 percent chance it will be completed?
Not that the players will give a rip, but this is a rubber match between the Ducks and Cougars. In 81 matchups since 1901, Oregon and WSU are perfectly tied at 37-37-7. Bragging rights are on the line between the centenarian fans of each team.
- Compiled by Rob Moseley,
Linebacker Scott Davis is WSU's second-leading tackler with 27 this season, and he has recovered two fumbles.