The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Oregon Ducks have climbed to the third position in the most recent AP poll, and they are heavily favored in this weekend's Pac-10 Conference clash with the Washington State Cougars.
The Ducks got off to a bit of a slow start against Stanford last weekend, but they eventually got in gear and cruised to a 52-31 win over a very strong football team. Oregon is now 5-0 overall, including 2-0 in Pac-10 action, and all five of their wins have come by double figures. The Ducks have been explosive, scoring no fewer than 42 points in any contest.
As for Washington State, it has suffered three consecutive losses to fall to 1-4 overall. The lone victory to date came by one point over Montana State, an FCS program, and the four losses have all come by double figures. Last weekend, the Cougars fell to UCLA on the road by a 42-28 final.
Oregon owns a 42-38-7 series edge over Washington State, which includes three straight wins over the Cougars.
The Ducks are racking up 56.6 ppg and 569.2 total ypg, staggering numbers that undoubtedly concern Washington State heading into this weekend's affair. The strength of the Oregon offense is the ground attack, which accounts for 331.0 ypg at a clip of 6.6 ypc. The offense has already scored 31 touchdowns, and 18 have come on the ground.
LaMichael James is a legitimate Heisman candidate, as the explosive tailback has already rushed for 712 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing one of the club's two games. Darron Thomas, the team's quarterback, has played like a proven veteran, rushing for 219 yards and two scores while passing for 1,060 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Jeff Maehl has made 21 catches for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
The Ducks rolled up 626 total yards against Stanford last week, a truly exceptional performance. James rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries, while Thomas added 117 yards and a score on the ground. As a passer, Thomas threw for 238 yards and three touchdowns, overshadowing a pair of interceptions.
"He is a leader every week," says James of Thomas. "When he throws a pick, he bounces back. The thing about him is that he is happier when someone else scores a touchdown than when he does."
Opponents are only managing 15.0 ppg against the Ducks, so while the offense gets all of the attention, the team's defense is obvious formidable as well. Oregon is yielding a mere 3.7 yards per rushing attempt and has posted 11 interceptions versus just five touchdown passes allowed. Cliff Harris has registered four of the 11 picks.
Stanford is one of the better offensive teams in the nation, so the Oregon defensive stats took a bit of a hit last week. The Ducks permitted 518 total yards and four touchdowns, as the defense spent over 33 minutes on the field. Fortunately, the level of competition isn't nearly as high this weekend.
"Our defense did a great job of making adjustments," said head coach Chip Kelly, whose Ducks blanked the Cardinal in the second half. "That's a really good football team (Stanford). They will be a force down the road."
Washington State is scoring 21.0 ppg while posting 339.4 total ypg through the first five outings of this campaign. The Cougars have been unsuccessful running the football, as they are averaging 86.0 ypg at a clip of 2.7 yards per carry. Of the 13 touchdowns scored by the offense, just four have come on the ground. Therefore, a great deal of pressure has fallen on the passing game.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel has completed 57.0 percent of his passes for 1,233 yards with eight touchdowns and only four interceptions. Wide receiver Marquess Wilson registered his third game of more than 100 receiving yards last week at UCLA (118 yards), making him just the second freshman wideout in school history to post multiple 100-yard games in a single season. Tuel completed 20- of-37 passes against UCLA for 311 yards and two scores with no picks.
"We fought and we played like a Pac-10 football team today," said head coach Paul Wulff. "We haven't done that before. It's a tribute to their mission for four quarters and their effort. So there was some growing up out there obviously. There were a lot of really good things that we can work on."
Defensively, the Cougars have struggled mightily, permitting 42.8 ppg and 509.8 total ypg to opponents. They have been consistently weak throughout the course of games, having permitted cumulative totals of 58, 55, 59 and 42 points in the four quarters of their games. Washington State is being victimized for 6.5 yards per rushing attempt and 12.2 yards per pass completion.
Last week, WSU permitted UCLA to make good on 8-of-14 third-down conversion attempts and hold the ball for nearly 35 minutes. The Cougars gave up 565 total yards and surrendered five rushing touchdowns.