EUGENE, ORE - Washington State has won the four last meetings against the Oregon Ducks, and are attempting to add to the streak Saturday night at Autzen Stadium. Last year, WSU defeated Oregon on a historic day for Cougar athletics, as Pullman hosted College Gameday, and then went on to defeat the Ducks 34-20 in front of a sold out, and crazed Martin Stadium. Last year's Oregon team, didn't have the defensive talent that Mario Cristobal has assembled for this year's campaign. Lets not sugar coat this, Oregon is the more talented team, and WSU is slated as a two-touchdown underdog; the Cougs will have to bring their A++ game in order to take down their brightly colored opponents. Let's take a look at the important stats and trends that will likely impact this matchup.
When Oregon has the ball:
It was a surprise when Oregon QB Justin Herbert decided to come back for his senior season with the Ducks, but it has paid off for him thus far, and then some. Herbert has thrown 21 touchdowns against one single interception this season. Oregon's passing attack also currently ranks 9th best in the country; with an accurate passer in Herbert slinging the ball around to an athletic and talented receiving core, the WSU defense will be tested heavily, and other than the Colorado game, the defense has failed numerous tests this season. However, like many opponents WSU has faced this season, Oregon can't seem to help but run the ball to it's own detriment at times. The Duck's rushing attack isn't bad, but it isn't good either; slightly above average at best. Which begs the question, why don't the Ducks throw the ball a little bit more? Arizona State and Utah sure seemed to figure this out against the lack-luster Cougar pass defense, it'll be interesting to see if Oregon does the same. One positive for Coug fans to hold onto is that Oregon has not been particularly explosive on offense this season. Chunk plays have been WSU's undoing in their three losses this season, so if they can employ a bend but don't break mentality, maybe they can put the Ducks in some awkward situations, where they have to rely on their not-so-good kicking game.
When WSU has the ball:
Ready for the bad news? Oregon's defense has been outstanding against the pass this season. The Ducks are giving up just 4.4 yards per pass, sixth-best nationally. They are seventh in passing success rate and fourth in passing down success rate. This has been a defense that has been very good against the pass. Those stats certainly don't fill me with optomism. The Ducks also don't give up many scoring opportunities. Meaning opponents can move the ball into Duck territory easily enough, but once their close, Oregon locks it down. Opposing teams have scored touchdowns just 28 percent of the time when reaching the 40, and just 25 percent of the time when getting inside the red zone (that’s the best in the country). This means chunk plays will be huge for the Cougs if they want to steal this win from the Ducks. If Gordon, Borghi, and their fellow play-makers can connect on touchdowns of the 20-40 yard variety, then they won't have to worry about facing Oregon's daunting redzone defense.
Oregon is clearly the more talented team, and they're at home in Autzen stadium. They also have the most to play for as they still have a shot at the college football playoff if they continue their winning ways. WSU has the ability to win this game, but they need to avoid giving up big plays to Oregon, while creating those chances on their own end. The Ducks are likely to win if we're being honest with ourselves, however, if the Cougs force them into longer drives, and are able to break a few big plays, we could be in for the surprise of the season in Eugene.