Washington St.-Oregon Preview
Oregon conquered its first true test of the season with an impressive road victory its last time out, and with two more premier Pac-12 matchups in the coming weeks, the Ducks must stay focused on a lesser Washington State team.
Second-ranked Oregon looks for a seventh consecutive win in the series when it hosts the Cougars on Saturday night.
After defeating their first five opponents by a combined score of 296-59, a 45-24 win at then-No. 16 Washington last Saturday was a close call in relative terms for the Ducks (6-0, 3-0).
Oregon led 31-24 at the end of the third quarter, requiring quarterback Marcus Mariota to take his first fourth-quarter snaps of the season. He finished with 454 total yards - his second-most ever - and four total touchdowns, improving his season total to 25 with no turnovers.
Mariota recorded a 208.5 passer rating against a Huskies defense that was limiting opponents to an 81.5 rating.
"He was awesome," coach Mark Helfrich said. "He played really smart and very productive. A bunch of guys made a bunch of plays for him, too."
Pac-12 showdowns against No. 9 UCLA and No. 13 Stanford await after Saturday's game, which appears to be a mismatch.
Oregon ranks second nationally with 630.5 yards per game, while Washington State's defense is eighth in the conference, surrendering an average of 400.3. The Cougars are also up against the league's top scoring defense with the Ducks allowing 13.8 points per game.
Washington State has lost its last seven road games against top 10 teams, though the last victory was 55-16 at Oregon on Sept. 27, 2003.
But Mariota doesn't want to hear it, particularly after seeing the Cardinal fall eight spots in the rankings following a 27-21 loss at Utah last week. One conference loss was enough to eliminate the Ducks from the national title race each of the last two seasons.
"Guys understand that for the last couple years we've let one go," Mariota told the team's official website. "Guys don't want to have that happen again, so guys have the right mindset."
Mariota is likely especially wary after throwing two interceptions in a 32-21 win over the Cougars last year - the only time he's thrown multiple picks in 19 career games.
Washington State (4-3, 2-2) is trying to bounce back after a late collapse in a 52-24 home loss to Oregon State last Saturday. The Cougars held a 24-17 edge late in the third quarter before surrendering five unanswered touchdowns.
"Coming off this loss, we are more hungry and humbled," linebacker Darryl Monroe said. "We have to go out and get a win."
Connor Halliday was picked off on three of four pass attempts at one point in the second half, part of a string of five straight Washington State possessions that ended with turnovers.
Coach Mike Leach said Halliday remains the team's starter, though his 13 interceptions are the FBS' most. This week should provide an even greater challenge as Oregon is fifth nationally with a 94.3 defensive passer rating.
"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."
Oregon is unsure whether it will see the return of running back De'Anthony Thomas, who hasn't played since spraining his ankle on the opening kickoff of a 55-16 victory over California on Sept. 28. Fill-in Byron Marshall has rushed for 358 yards in Thomas' absence, 11th-most in the country during that span.