WSU hung tough in LA against the UCLA Bruins last week, but it faces a bigger challenge against the Oregon Ducks this week in Pullman. The Cougs couldn't stop the run against the Bruins, allowing 437 yards on the ground in a 42-28 loss on Saturday. The weaknesses in the WSU run defense are a huge problem that should be magnified by the Ducks' prolific spread-option attack.
In an effort to slow down the Ducks' attack, the Cougs are looking at some changes on the defensive side, specifically adding more speed to the front seven. The Spokesman-Reviews Vince Grippi took a few guesses at what those changes might be last night.
The moves WSU can make are limited, though some possibilities include freshman Deone Bucannon playing more at strong safety, which would give Sekope Kaufusi, a former linebacker playing defensive end, a shot at his old position; possibly shifting outside linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis back inside, where he played last season; or using Jamal Atofau, a converted safety, more often.
While the defense has been terrible this year, the offense is hitting its stride. Behind the arm of Jeff Tuel and the speed of game-breaking freshman Marquess Wilson, the Cougs have improved dramatically since shifting to a more spread-oriented passing attack against USC. That success carried over to the UCLA game, with Tuel throwing for over 300 yards and two scores. Over at CougCenter, we wondered what took so long.
The offense spread everything out again, building off what we saw last week. It worked for the second straight week. We begged, even pleaded, for the offense to spread the field following three weeks of futility. I know the coaches were worried about putting too much on the young offense, but it's so frustrating to see an offense that took one week to install move with such ease.
Washington State will have trouble against the speedy Oregon defense, but the re-emergence of Tuel and the wide receivers bode well for the rest of the Cougars' season.
Oregon is coming off a huge win against ninth-ranked Stanford at Autzen Stadium. After falling behind 21-3 early, the Ducks buckled down and held the Cardinal scoreless in the second half, using a 49-10 run to propel them to victory. The win was a huge statement for the Ducks, moving them up to third in both the AP and coaches poll this week. The Oregonian's John Hunt got ahold of Chip Kelly after the win and found a coach that was grounded and downplaying the big victory.
Coach Chip Kelly had the predictable reaction to the question of how he celebrated the win over Stanford, the Ducks' 10th straight Pacific-10 Conference win at Autzen Stadium.
"I went home last night, went to bed, came in this morning and went to work,'' Kelly said. "If you call celebrating dreaming ..."
After Oregon dismantled Tennessee on the road, Addicted To Quack writer Matt Daddy put together an excellent breakdown of the Oregon defense. He focused on Cliff Harris' pick-six, giving some great insights into the scheme Ducks' defensive coordinator Nick Allioti runs in the process. His breakdown is a must read for any football fan.
Oregon's defense is built on speed (no kidding, right?) but it's also built on scheme. Early on in this game Oregon was getting beat with a ground and pound offense. Tennessee was moving down the field using an unbalanced line, big RBs and some bad reads by the linebackers. From the first quarter on Aliotti continued to put more men in the box and trust Oregon's speed to be able to cover ground. When Tennessee needed a drive to keep the game in check Aliotti waited until Tennessee had no chance but to pass and brought a confusing misdirection attacking zone blitz. This forced Simms into throwing to the guy he knew would be his quick out. Because of Oregon's speed and the scheme they used, Harris was able to make the right read, quickly react and pick it for a touchdown.
The Oregon defense has turned the opponent over 13 times in five games, taking three of those back for touchdowns. While the defense has shown the ability to make big plays, the Oregon offense is the engine that makes the team go. Darron Thomas has directed the spread-option to near perfection this year. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, both game-breakers in their own right, provide a scary two-headed rushing attack for the ducks.
After sitting out the opener due to suspension, James picked up right where he left off last year, making defenders miss en route to 712 yards on the ground and a ridiculous 8 yards per carry average. The Ducks are averaging 331 yards per game on the ground, a number that should increase against the Cougar defense. The Register-Guard's Rob Moseley looked at the stats and the history between Oregon and WSU this morning. WSU has played the spoiler against Oregon multiple times in the last decade, leading me to wonder if it could happen again (OK, maybe not).
That 2006 loss followed a 5-1 start by Oregon, and a 2003 defeat at the hands of WSU ended a four-game winning streak by the Ducks to open that season. The Cougars also beat Oregon in 2002 to spark a four-game losing streak to close that season - the last time the Ducks started 5-0 - and a loss at WSU in 1996 ended a three-game win streak to open that season.
It's homecoming week at WSU and the Cougs are hoping fans come to Pullman in full force. Unfortunately, the game won't be televised because of the homecoming festivities. WSU and Oregon were both granted a waiver to move the game back to 4 p.m., but FSN would only allow the game to be televised in the 12:30 p.m. slot. The result, according to the Oregonian's Aaron Fentress, is a game that can only be seen live in the stadium on Saturday.
However, according to Williford, Washington State wants to maintain a 2 p.m. start time. So, for now, the game is not scheduled to be televised.
Williford said he was unsure as to why WSU couldn't agree to change to time of the game but said that next week is homecoming week for the Cougars.
Looks like it's radio or bust for fans outside of Pullman this weekend.
The 3rd ranked Ducks take on the Washington State Cougars this Saturday in Pullman at 2 p.m. Follow this stream all week for updates on both teams as we head towards Saturday's game.
For more on the Cougars, check out SB Nation's CougCenter.