Oregon-Washington St. Preview
Oregon's bid for a shot at the 2013 national championship was derailed by a pair of losses in its final visits to Pac-12 opponents.
The second-ranked Ducks head out on their first trip within the conference since those defeats for Saturday night's matchup with pass-happy Washington State.
Oregon (3-0) dropped its last two Pac-12 away dates last season to then-No. 6 Stanford and unranked Arizona, and a home scare seemed possible after the first quarter of last Saturday's 48-14 win over Wyoming. The Ducks trailed 7-0 after 15 minutes, but then settled in for six straight scoring drives in their final non-conference tuneup.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota went 19 of 23 for 221 yards and two touchdown passes while adding 71 yards and two more scores on five rushes.
His performance in last season's 62-38 home win over Washington State on Oct. 19 was also a multi-threat effort with 23-of-32 passing leading to 327 yards and two TDs with eight carries for 67 yards and a score.
The Ducks have won the last seven meetings with the Cougars (1-2) and enter a third straight contest against them while holding the nation's No. 2 ranking. The last two have resulted in victories by an average of 56.5-32.0 with Mariota running the offense.
Through three games this season, Oregon's 52.0 points per game are tied for fifth in FBS. Mariota has eight TDs without throwing a pick in 71 attempts. Over his last 18 games, he's thrown just four in 505 attempts.
On the ground, three running backs have joined him in rushing for at least 155 yards with freshman Royce Freeman leading the way with 186 yards and five scores on 28 carries.
The team's 10.89 yards per passing attempt ranks third in FBS while its 6.3 yards per carry is 11th, accounting for 573.3 yards of offense.
Its defense, though, has at times made the offensive efficiency less comfortable than it probably should be.
The Ducks have surrendered some mileage through the air, which might need to be improved upon against Cougars. Over the last two weeks, Oregon has allowed 627 passing yards and four passing scores. Overall, it yielded 905 scrimmage yards to Wyoming and Michigan State, and seven plays of 30-plus yards in three games.
"When everybody's done their job and everybody fits where they're supposed to fit and takes care of their business, we've been great," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told the school's official website. "A few breakdowns (Saturday), just gap-wise, turned into big plays. … Those are the kinds of things that cannot happen."
Washington State has attempted 177 passes through three games for an FBS-best 1,551 yards. Starter Connor Halliday went 41 of 62 for 544 yards with six TDs and two interceptions in last Saturday's 59-21 win over Portland State as the Cougars put up a school-record 706 total yards and a Pac-12-record 630 passing yards.
"That's like PlayStation numbers, what he did," Helfrich said.
Halliday's 175 attempts, 1,465 yards and 12 TDs are all good for at least a share of the FBS lead, though his five interceptions are just one off the same pace. Oregon has picked off four balls in the last two weeks, and Halliday will recall serving up four of his own in last season's meeting.
Coach Mike Leach called on his quarterback for an unthinkable 58-of-89 passing for 557 yards and four TDs with seven receivers catching at least five passes in the loss. The attempts stand as an FBS record while the completions are a Pac-12 high.
It wasn't nearly enough, and Leach said this time around the Cougars are focused on making the most of every play to try to keep pace.
"Oregon's a fast team, they're an explosive team, and people that don't play within themselves will squander plays, and they're not a team you can afford to squander plays against," Leach said. "They're quick enough to make up for their mistakes. ... If somebody else makes a mistake, it might go for 15 yards. Oregon makes a mistake, it might go for six. You have to be prepared to execute more plays."
Halliday's favorite target this year has been Isiah Myers with 26 catches for 423 yards and five scores while Vince Mayle's 25 catches make the duo two of seven FBS receivers with at least 25 receptions.