Oregon Secondary versus Washington State’s passing game
Washington State’s offense relies heavily on its passing game. Head coach Mike Leach has built his reputation on the air raid offense, and Washington State uses offense to overpower opponents through the air and light up the scoreboard.
Washington State leads both the Pac-12 and nation in passing with 440 yards per game. The Cougars also lead the Pac-12 in total yards per game (532).
Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon is the nation’s leading passer and needs 19 more yards to break 3,000 yards passing on the season. Gordon has thrown an eye-popping 29 touchdowns in 2019, which is tied for first in the nation, according to ESPN.
However, the Cougars’ commitment to the passing game has not been as successful as in years past. The team is 1-3 in conference play and the air raid offense is, at times, one dimensional. The Cougars are last in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game, averaging a paltry 92 yards on the ground.
The Oregon secondary has been elite this season. Although sometimes struggling against Washington, the secondary got a critical fourth-down stop in the final moments of the game.
Gordon will look to throw the ball once again on Saturday. Defensive backs Jevon Holland and Thomas Graham Jr., along with other members of the secondary, will have plenty of chances to force turnovers. Holland is tied for second in the conference in interceptions with three, and cornerback Verone McKinley III is tied for third-most with two. As a team, Oregon ranks first in the conference, allowing only 178 yards through the air and conceding only six touchdowns. The unit has 12 interceptions this season, which leads the Pac-12.
Advantage: Washington State
Oregon’s running backs versus Washington State’s run defense
There have been times this season when Oregon’s ground game has stalled, but as of late, the rushing attack has improved. Washington State is not a program typically known for its defense, and this season is no different. The Cougars are 10th in the conference in rushing yards allowed, giving up an average of 177 yards a game on the ground. With that being said, the Cougars have recovered 11 fumbles this season, which is the highest in the conference. However, not all of those fumbles were against opposing running backs.
Cyrus Habibi-Likio ran all over the Washington defense last week, and his power running has proven critical at times this season. Against the Huskies, Habibi-Likio rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown — all in the second half.
CJ Verdell will look to rebound after rushing for only 48 yards on 11 attempts against the Huskies. Against Colorado, Verdell gashed Colorado’s defense to the tune of 171 yards.
Washington State is eighth in the conference in points allowed this season, conceding 28 points per game.
The Cougars will lean on linebacker Jahad Woods to make stops. The junior from San Diego leads the team with 66 total tackles. He also has two sacks and a forced fumble on the year. Woods will have his hands full against an Oregon offense that has multiple playmakers at running back and one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation.
Washington State will need other defenders such as linebacker Justus Rogers to step up. The Bellevue, Washington, native has 36 total tackles and a sack on the year.
The Cougars’ defensive line will need to win at the line of scrimmage against the powerful Ducks’ line, primarily left tackle Penei Sewell, who has looked like a future first-round NFL Draft pick so far this season.