On Saturday, the No. 11 Oregon Ducks will host Washington State head coach Mike Leach and his Cougars at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks, now sitting comfortably atop the Pac-12 North, have had plenty of success so far in 2019. After losing 34-20 to a dominant Cougars squad in last year’s matchup in Pullman, the Ducks will be looking for revenge at home.
With a 4-3 record and currently sitting in fifth place in the Pac-12 North, Washington State has struggled so far this year. Washington State may not be playing at the same caliber as in past years, but Leach’s game plans have been instrumental in finding success against the Ducks in past years — the Cougs have defeated the Ducks in their last four meetings, putting up more than 30 points in each contest.
Under Leach, the Cougars have been known to run an extremely effective air-raid offense. And although struggling overall in 2019, they have certainly replicated that high-powered passing game thus far, and quarterback Anthony Gordon has been putting up massive numbers for the Cougars since taking over for now-NFL starter Gardner Minshew. Gordon leads the nation in total passing yards, tallying 2,981 on the season. The senior quarterback also leads the nation in passing touchdowns, tying LSU’s Joe Burrow with 29.
A talented group of receivers has been crucial to the success of the Washington State air raid. Six-foot senior Easop Winston Jr. leads the Cougars’ receiving corps with 47 receptions for 578 yards and nine touchdowns at an efficient 12.3 yards per catch. Winston ranks 23rd nationally in receiving yards and 10th in receiving touchdowns. Although Winston has been the primary target in the Cougar passing game, Washington State has a multitude of other options through the air — most notably, senior wideout Dezmon Patmon. Patmon has proven himself to be incredibly explosive, tallying 31 receptions for 481 yards at 15.5 yards per catch and five touchdowns.
While it’s been mostly successful through the air, the Washington State offense has been plagued by inconsistency and turnovers. Gordon has thrown seven interceptions so far in 2019, which presents a unique opportunity for a highly touted, opportunistic Oregon secondary.
The Cougars’ rush offense possesses fewer weapons but has been successful nonetheless. Sophomore running back Max Borghi has stood out as their top producer, handling 70 carries for 512 yards, a 7.3-yard average and six touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the Washington State defense has been underwhelming thus far in 2019, performing particularly poorly in conference matchups with UCLA, then-No. 19 Utah and then-No. 18 Arizona State, where they allowed 67, 38 and 38 points, respectively.
On Oct. 4, just days after falling to Utah, Washington State’s second-year defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned from his post after coaching only 18 games with the Cougars.
Despite sputtering on the defensive side, the Cougars have the talent to improve as the season progresses. With the help of a stout group of defensive backs, the Cougars rank fourth in the Pac-12 in interceptions, tallying 12 on the season thus far.
The Ducks may have the upper hand in this matchup, but they will definitely have to earn a win. With a dangerous air attack and a hungry defensive squad in Washington State, Oregon will have to play to its peak ability.