EUGENE — The Washington State Cougars are at least outwardly undaunted, even though they are underdogs by more than five touchdowns to second-ranked Oregon.
“We don’t fear them,” WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe said earlier this week in advance of tonight’s Pac-12 Conference football game at Autzen Stadium.
But there is certainly plenty to worry about when it comes to the Ducks.
Oregon is undefeated this season and averaging nearly 57 points per game with an offense that is racking up 630.5 yards a game, second-best in the nation.
Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) has a six-game winning streak over Washington State, averaging nearly 51 points per game over that span.
The Ducks are coming off a 45-24 victory over Washington in Seattle last weekend. After Stanford’s upset loss to Utah, Oregon is alone in first place in the Pac-12 North. UCLA, also undefeated, leads the Pac-12 South in the standings at the halfway point of the season.
The Cougars (4-3, 2-2) will have to guard against a fourth-quarter meltdown like last week in a 52-24 loss to Oregon State in Pullman. The Beavers outscored Washington State 28-0 in the fourth quarter, and Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday threw three interceptions.
“I think we panicked,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said. “Both sides of the ball were trying to make too much happen. One overcorrection led to the next.”
Oregon has faced a pass-heavy offense like Washington State’s “Air Raid” under Leach. Earlier this season the Ducks defeated California and first-year coach Sonny Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense, 55-16.
But that game was played in an almost constant downpour in Eugene, and prolific Cal quarterback Jared Goff had trouble holding the ball and was replaced.
The forecast for tonight’s contest calls for clear skies with a game-time temperature of about 60 degrees.
“The rain obviously didn’t give Cal an opportunity to do what they wanted to do, but our preparation is very similar,” said UO defensive coordinator Nick Allioti. “I don’t think it’s going to rain, so we can’t count on the rain. The rain did help us that game quite a bit, especially with a young freshman quarterback. But this is an older guy and it won’t be raining.”
Here are five things to look for when the Cougars visit the Ducks tonight:
Halliday’s status: Despite Halliday’s struggles at quarterback against the Beavers, Leach has said he has no plans to bench the junior. “All quarterbacks have a bad game, or one like that,” Leach said. “He had a bad fourth quarter, but we have a whole team that had a bad fourth quarter.” Halliday has 14 touchdowns this season, along with 13 interceptions.
Dat return? It is uncertain whether dynamic Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas will return this week against the Cougars. Thomas has been out since he slipped on the rain-soaked turf at Autzen on the opening kickoff against Cal three weeks ago. He has suited up for the past two games but has not played. Thomas has run for 338 yards and six touchdowns this season.
If Utah can do it, why not the Cougs? Utah’s surprise 27-21 victory over then-No. 5 Stanford showed Washington State that big upsets are possible. Indeed, the Cougars defeated a ranked opponent earlier this season when they beat then-No. 25 USC in Los Angeles, 10-7, although that was before the Trojans fired head coach Lane Kiffin. Washington State has not defeated a team ranked in the top five nationally since 2003, when the Cougars downed No. 5 Texas 28-20 in the Holiday Bowl.
Marvelous Mariota: Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota admits to watching ESPN now and then, so he no doubt knows that the pundits have him on their Heisman Trophy short lists this season. But he is trying to ignore the hype: “I wouldn’t say I’m unaware, but I do my best not to pay attention. I focus on coming into the facility and just working out and doing the best that I can and getting better every day.” The sophomore’s numbers are impressive: He has completed 100 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. He has also run for 426 yards and eight more TDs.
Pretty in pink: For tonight’s game, Oregon will wear pink helmets — along with pink cleats, socks and gloves — to honor breast cancer survivors and help raise money for the Kay Yow Cancer fund. Following the game, the Ducks plan to auction off a number of the helmets for the charity, which is named after the former North Carolina State women’s basketball coach, who died of breast cancer in 2009. Oregon will wear its black jerseys and pants to complete the ensemble.
Washington St. at Oregon
• When: Today, 7 p.m.
• TV: Fox Sports 1
• Radio: KBND-AM 1110