While it is technically a home game for the Cougars (2-2, 0-1), playing in Seattle, rather than in Pullman in far eastern Washington, also makes it easier for Ducks fans tto attend the game. Washington State has played a game at the home of the Seattle Seahawks every year — except 2004 — since 2002 as a nod to its massive alumni base in the Puget Sound region.
But last year Bill Moos, athletic director at Washington State, changed the format for the game: Rather than playing a nonconference foe in Seattle each season, Moos decided that for the foreseeable future whichever Oregon school the Cougars are scheduled to host will be the opponent in the NFL stadium.
Last year's game against Oregon State drew a crowd of just under 50,000. This year, nearly 60,000 tickets have already been sold. And while the Cougars are trying to turn the town crimson for the night, there is bound to be plenty of highlighter yellow in attendance too.
“It'll be different. We're not playing in Pullman, so it's going to be a totally different environment and both teams are going to be excited," Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan said.
The Ducks are thrilled with the idea of getting to play in an NFL stadium, maybe because it means not having to make the trip to the smallest town in the Pac-12.
The Cougars were a little less enthusiastic about having to give up a home game in Pullman. Presumptive starting quarterback Connor Halliday and defensive lineman Xavier Cooper both said this week they would rather play in WSU's Martin Stadium even if that meant a smaller crowd.
“I think it's exciting for the west side of the state," Halliday said. “We've got a lot of Cougars over there. But it's not a true home game. It's kind of frustrating that we don't get to play the game in Martin Stadium. It's kind of a 50-50 deal. I just wish all of our home games were here (in Pullman). I don't see why we need to go somewhere else to play a home game. That's my opinion."
Oregon's defense was outstanding in last week's 49-0 shutout of Arizona, despite being put in difficult situations almost from the beginning. The Ducks held Arizona scoreless despite six Wildcat possessions inside the Oregon 20-yard line. They forced four turnovers and returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns. It was Oregon's first conference shutout since 2003.
If there is a concern for Oregon, it could be that redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota will be making his first start away from friendly Autzen Stadium. Also, each of the past two years the Ducks have found the Cougars to be a tougher test than expected.
“I think we just take it the same as every other week," Mariota said. “It'll be a little different being away from home, being away from this great place (Autzen), but we're going to take it as another challenge and we should be fine."
Washington State is trying to recover from an epic collapse at home, letting a 31-14 fourth-quarter lead slip away and losing 35-34 to lowly Colorado when Jordan Webb scored on a quarterback sneak in the final seconds.
The collapse was damaging on multiple fronts. The buzz that came with the arrival of Leach in Pullman has slowly eroded during the first month of the season with uninspired performances in wins over Eastern Washington and UNLV, followed by the loss to Colorado.
Additionally, the Colorado loss now makes it difficult to find four more plausible victories on the Cougars' schedule, leaving in doubt the preseason goal of finally getting back to a bowl game for the first time since 2003.
And trying to get well against the second-ranked team in the country with a defense showing plenty of leaks does not appear to be the best remedy.
But Washington State believes it can play with the Ducks.
“I don't think we need to shock anybody," the Cougars' Cooper said. “We can compete with anybody when we play to our ability."