Players to watch: Robinson and Schooler will play key roles in stopping Air Raid attack
After a double-overtime loss against the Cougars in Eugene last season, the Ducks (2-2, 0-1) want revenge against Washington State (1-2, 0-0) on Saturday.
Oregon started the season 2-0, but has since faltered with losses to Nebraska and Colorado. Washington State is 1-2, including a loss to FCS-opponent Eastern Washington, and will be playing its first Pac-12 game after a week four bye.
Here are some players to watch:
Tyree Robinson, cornerback: A quality secondary performance will be vital against the pass-heavy offense of Washington State. Robinson, who made the switch from safety to corner earlier this year, will have to battle a swiss-army knife of wide receivers. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Robinson’s build gives him an advantage against smaller receivers when being blocked. Washington State runs many wide receiver screens that act as its running game, so Robinson will have an opportunity to shed blocks and improve his team-high 21 solo tackles.
Brenden Schooler, safety: The true freshman has found himself in a starting safety position. He’ll look to add to his two interceptions while handling Washington State’s complex passing offense. Washington State throws short, quick routes often, but will throw deep when the defense begins to cheat closer. Schooler and fellow secondary members will have to make sure they keep the wide receivers in front of them and limit the big passing plays.
Royce Freeman, running back: Freeman rushed for a career high 246 yards against Washington State last season but enters this game battling a shin injury. He sat out against Colorado, and the Ducks ran the ball for a respectable 215 yards — well below its 280-yard average. If he returns healthy, the Oregon offense returns its best weapon. Freeman is averaging 8.8 yards per carry, but the Washington State defense is only allowing 3.8 yards per carry. If Freeman can establish the Oregon running game, it will lower the pressure on quarterback Dakota Prukop.
Luke Falk, quarterback: Falk dominated Oregon last season when he was 50-74 for 505 yards and five touchdowns. He has not slowed down this season, having completed 74 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He leads an offense that ranks second in the conference in passing yards per game and is facing an Oregon defense that is 10th in pass defense. He is averaging 374 yards per game and could be difficult for the Ducks to stop.
Gabe Marks, wide receiver: Marks has been Falk’s go-to guy all season. His 80 receiving yards per game leads Washington State and ranks fourth in the Pac-12. He is second in the conference with nine receptions per game and leads his team with four touchdowns. He is Falk’s safety blanket and could cause trouble for Oregon corners Robinson and Arrion Springs.
Hercules Mata’afa, defensive end: Mata’afa is a beast in the middle who anchors a surprisingly sturdy Washington State run defense with 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He will have to play well for Washington State to get pressure on Prukop. The Cougars rank last in the Pac-12 in sacks with only two so far this season.
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917
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