GAME PREVIEW: ‘King of the North’ title on the line as Cougs travel to Eugene

Jack Ellis | CougCenter

Three weeks after firing their head coach and having to scramble to fill multiple positions on the staff, the Cougars (5-4, 4-2) find themselves in a position to overtake the No. 3 ranked Oregon Ducks (8-1, 5-1) for 1st place in the Pac-12 North with just three games to play.

Matchup History

The Ducks dominated Washington State for eight straight games between 2007-2014. The Cougars were finally able to break the streak in Eugene in 2015. The Cougs were able to storm back from a late 10 point deficit and tie the game with a touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Dom Williams with just four seconds left. The teams would trade touchdowns in the first overtime and the Cougs would strike again in the 2nd as Falk originally had hit River Cracraft who nearly broke the plane before the ball went straight up in the air and into the hands of Robert Lewis who stepped into the endzone himself. On 4th and 9 with the game on the line, Jeff Lockie threw an interception to Shalom Luani to seal the win for the Cougs and snap the losing streak to the Ducks.

The Cougs would start a winning streak of their own as the following year. Led by 371 total passing yards and another 280 yards rushing, the Cougs blew it wide open in the 4th quarter to beat the Ducks for the first time in Pullman since a decade prior, 51-33. The winning streak would continue into 2017 as the Cougs shutout Oregon for the last three quarters of the game in route to a 33-10 statement win to silence the crowd in Eugene. The next years crowd was far from silent.

College Gameday 2018.

@WSUPullman | Twitter

A state of emergency was declared in Pullman before the ESPN College Gameday bus even rolled into town. A sea of crimson flags flew high and proud on the corner Ferdinand’s Lane and Stadium Way one very early Saturday morning. Lee Corso donned the Butch T. Cougar head as the freshly ranked No. 25 Cougars hosted the No. 12 Oregon Ducks. After taking a commanding 27-0 lead into the half, the crowd started to feel anxious as the Ducks drew closer. Up by seven with 3:40 to go in the game on the Ducks 22 yard line, Pullman’s folk lore hero Gardner Minshew and his trademark bushy upper lip hair dropped back, threw the ball over the middle to a streaking Dezmon Patmon and Tim Brando said it best before a swarm of Coug fans stormed the field following the 34-20 win just minutes later.

Dezmon Patmon! Party on!

Tim Brando. FOX Play-by-play announcer

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

The streak came to an end in 2019, the Cougs last trip to Eugene, as Oregon was able to drive down the field with just a minute to go and kick a game-winning field goal from 26 yards out as the Duck fans got to storm the field this time and celebrate snapping their five game losing streak to the Cougs.

Last time the Ducks were in Pullman, they had to hear over 33,000 screaming fans in full force. Last year, there were 33,000 less. Blake Mazza’s 49 yard field goal would give the Cougs a 19-7 lead before halftime. Well, initially. The Ducks would take the ensuing kickoff to their own 39 yard line and Tyler Shough would hit a wide open Jaylon Reed with 11 seconds left to put the Ducks at the Cougar three yard line. CJ Verdell would punch it in and make it a 19-14 game before halftime. Four straight 2nd half touchdown drives pushed the Ducks past the Cougars for a 43-29 Ducks victory in front of an empty Martin Stadium crowd.

The 2021 Oregon Ducks

The Ducks have been walking a thin-line all season to try and get into a position to make the College Football Playoff. After squeaking by Fresno State to open the year, the Ducks went to Colombus and stunned the nation by erasing the 14 point underdog line and beating the Buckeyes in the horseshoe 35-28 to assert themselves in the College Football Playoff conversation. Two more wins over lowly Stony Brook and Arizona sent the Ducks off to Stanford. A plethora of mistakes on the defensive end allowed Stanford a shot to tie the game before regulation. A defensive pass interference call on an incomplete pass in the endzone gave Stanford one more shot at the endzone with triple zeros on the clock and Stanford would pull in the touchdown reception to send the game to overtime. Stanford would strike first in overtime and a 4th down incompletion would give the Cardinal the upset over No. 3 Oregon 31-24.

The Ducks would rebound with one possession wins over conference foes Cal and UCLA before traveling to Seattle last week. Oregon’s defense would hold Washington to just seven first downs on offense and the Ducks used their running game prowess, led by Travis Dye’s 211 rushing yards, for a 26-16 victory.

Sitting alone at the top of the Pac-12 North with one conference loss at Stanford, the Ducks control their own destiny to a 5th Pac-12 Championship appearance and likely a college football playoff berth with just three games remaining.

Meet the Ducks

Since the turn of the 2010s, Ducks fans have been spoiled with two great quarterbacks. Marcus Mariota led the Ducks up-tempo offense from 2012-2014, bringing home the Heisman trophy in 2014, and Justin Herbert started most games from 2016-2019 and is now lighting it up in the NFL for the Los Angeles Chargers. Times have changed as current Senior quarterback Anthony Brown hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire through the air. He’s thrown for 1,895 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions so far. Brown is a much better quarterback at home as he has eight of his eleven passing touchdowns at home with all of his interceptions coming on the road. He’s been a threat to run too as he comes in 2nd on the team in rushing attempts (92), with 428 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

Travis Dye has been the one setting the world on fire though. He’s coming off a career-high 211 rushing yards against Washington, which brings him to 820 total rushing yards on the year on 134 carries. He also has 12 total touchdowns to go along with his yardage (11 rushing, one receiving). Dye also leads the Ducks in receptions with 26 as well. Dye figures to be in the gameplan early and often for the Ducks as their primary offensive threat.

Dye isn’t the only offensive weapon at head coach Mario Cristobal and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s disposal. 6’5 Sophomore wide receiver Devon Williams is a handful for defenses to cover. He leads the Ducks in receiving yards and tied receiver Jaylon Reed and tight end Terrance Ferguson for the most receiving touchdowns at two with the lone touchdown reception last week. Johnny Johnson III is the Ducks other main threat on the outside with 22 receptions on the year for 268 yards.

The Ducks defense is nothing to sneeze at either. They come into Saturday ranked 4th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (22.4 pp/g) and 30th in the nation at stopping the run, only giving up about 124.6 rushing yards per game. They have struggled to defend the pass. Ranked 10th in the conference and 88th in the nation, they give up 244.4 passing yards per game. They do a good job at creating takeaways however as they will come in tied for 16th in the nation with 17 takeaways. Verone McKinley III and Bennett Williams have four and three interceptions respectively for the Ducks. You can’t talk about this Ducks defense either without addressing the 6’5 258 lb. defensive end and future NFL player, Kayvon Thibodeaux. While he was shutdown by Washington last week, he still a force and will give WSU offensive tackles all that they can handle and some. The future 1st round pick has four sacks and two forced fumbles on the year already.


ESPN is confident in the Ducks at home as their Football Power Index gives Oregon a 82.8% chance of winning. Lines across the board are giving the Ducks two or three possessions but ESPN, as of Wednesday, has the line at -14 for Oregon.

Keys to Success

Jayden de Laura had a good bounce back week against Arizona State throwing the football and will need to do it again. This Oregon secondary is suspect but does know how to create takeaways when they need to, thanks in part to a great pass rush. For de Laura, he doesn’t need to get too fancy with the ball. Just take what the defenses gives him and try not to panic and force the ball into the tight windows that Oregon wants you to try and do. As stated above, the offensive tackles have to keep de Laura upright too. Liam Ryan and Abe Lucas are going to have to take over this game up front and keep Thibodeaux at bay if WSU is going to take advantage of a weaker secondary.

On defense, the Cougs have to contain Travis Dye and the Ducks run. Dye may have made it look easy last week, but he is human. He isn’t always going to rush for north of 200 yards every week. Colorado and UCLA were able to hold the talented back to under four yards a carry in their matchups. Colorado ranks just 10th in the conference at stopping the run as well. Don’t let Travis Dye beat you. Anthony Brown is far less talented than Duck quarterbacks of past. If WSU can force some pressure and get Brown to panic, it will help out the WSU defense that is one of the best in the nation at creating takeaways.

Bottom Line.

Somehow, after all the bad play early in the year, controversy, staff overhauls and more, WSU football has once again rebounded against the adversity and finds themselves in their biggest game since Black Friday 2018. This program is no stranger to big-time games with big-time implications on the line in recent years. Yet, that was a different team with a different regime with a different mindset and expectations.

Expectations were higher back then. Those teams were expected to easily hit the bowl eligibility mark and compete for Pac-12 North titles. They were supposed to be in situations like these. This year? Not so much.

I’ve told multiple people this. WSU football is playing with house money at this point. They’ve already exceeded any possible expectation set by simply playing so hard after everything that has happened to them over the last month that were just here for the ride now. Nobody would have blamed them had they simply waived the white flag on this season and folded. But as Coug legend Steve Gleason once said “There will be no white flags.” This program once again got right back up and kept fighting like they have before when it seemed everything went against them.

Now they are presented an opportunity to reward themselves for their hard-work, resilience and determination to get to this point. Let’s push our chips all-in. This team has nothing to lose. Let’s dream big.

It’s going to be Pac-12 After Dark in Eugene. Kickoff at 7:30 p.m.