Oregon’s season got off to an undeniably rough start, as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 40-27 beating from a physically dominant LSU team. To their credit, Chip Kelly’s squad quickly put that game behind them and turned the page. It didn’t take long for the high flying Ducks offense to reach cruising altitude, as they’ve outscored opponents 310-102 since the season opener with a perfect 6-0 record. Their road hasn’t been without hiccups; they’ve had star players like Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, John Boyett, Michael Clay, and Cliff Harris all miss significant game action over that same span. Despite the absence of those key players, Oregon has won their last six games by double digits, a tribute to Oregon’s impressive depth. Back-up QB Bryan Bennett has wowed observers with his play, showing off game changing ability as a rusher that even Darron Thomas doesn’t possess.
While conference games always have an elevated level of importance and intensity, it’s hard to spin the free falling Cougars as anything but a tuneup game before Oregon’s schedule enters prime time (@ Washington, @ Stanford, USC, Civil War game). The only problem is that once again it seems as if the Ducks will be rolling out something less than their A squad on Saturday. LaMichael James has said that he’d play “if the team needed him” but as 35 point home favorites that doesn’t seem to be the case. Darron Thomas has been very guarded about his status for the game and I wouldn’t expect Chip Kelly to endanger his QB by rushing him back early (something WSU coach Paul Wulff is probably regretting). The cherry on top is obviously Cliff Harris, who was re-suspended by the team for three more traffic violations. It’s a sad situation that doesn’t appear to have a happy ending anywhere in sight. The offense hasn’t missed a beat with Bennett at the helm, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas would be starting for almost any other team in the country, and Cliff hasn’t been a consistent contributor all season anyways. These absences shouldn’t have much of an effect on the outcome of Saturday’s game, but their impact might be seen later in the season against more challenging opponents.
Because there is a non-zero chance that Washington State can pull the shocking upset Saturday, it’d be wrong not to analyze the players that can make that pipe dream a reality. This section could’ve been more interesting a couple weeks ago, as their best player QB Jeff Tuel was coming back from injury looking to spark Washington State’s offense. Instead Tuel suffered what is most likely a season ending calf injury and has been replaced by Marshall Lobbestael. Lobbestael has impressed in relief with a 15-5 TD to INT ratio this season, but he still represents a significant drop off in talent. Lobbestael’s numbers have been buoyed by the play of criminally underrated WR Marquess Wilson, who boasts a season stat line of 41/763/6. He’s the Cougar’s most explosive player and the one guy the Ducks D will need to key on. Regardless of who lines up behind center for the Ducks or who he’s handing the ball off to, Washington State’s defense doesn’t have a prayer of shutting Oregon down. Emotional leader DE Travis Long will need to rally the troops just to keep the game from getting ugly. Don’t expect him to succeed at that task.
Prediction: Oregon 44 Washington State 17