Every week during football season, our sports staff will discuss different topics surrounding an upcoming game. Today, print sports editor Lindsey Tucker and sports reporters Chris Mosch and Madison Guernsey discuss Saturday’s matchup between Oregon and Washington State.
1. Last time these two teams faced off, Oregon entered halftime with a 23-19 lead. What can Washington State do to keep it close again this year?
Lindsey Tucker — To keep it even relatively close, Washington State will have to make sure Oregon doesn’t separate itself with a early lead. With the second-best offense in the nation, Oregon is expected to rack up the passing and rushing yards early and often. Two main reasons the Cougars were able to hang on in the first half last season is because they had zero turnovers (minus one by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu that was overturned by an Oregon penalty) and the defense was able to hold Oregon to 23 points at the half, 7.5 points less than Oregon’s 2012 average, while also keeping up on offense. If they can take care of the ball and play solid defense, WSU may be able to hang in there for the first half.
Chris Mosch — Against the second-highest scoring team in the country, the last thing Washington State can afford to do in a hostile Autzen Stadium environment is give Oregon extra opportunities to put points on the board. Washington State was able to keep the game within reach last year because they didn’t commit any turnovers during the first half. Connor Halliday has thrown an FBS-worst 13 interceptions this season and is on the heels of a 52-24 loss to Oregon State in which the offense turned the ball over during all five of its fourth-quarter drives. Halliday needs to be flawless to keep this game from getting out of hand early.
Madison Guernsey — Win the turnover battle. The Cougars have been notorious for giving up the football this season and rank dangerously close to the bottom of FBS rankings in turnover, while Oregon has been exceptional about not turning the ball over. If Washington State is going to have a chance in this one, Connor Halliday and the rest of the Cougars offense will need to keep the ball out of the hands of Oregon’s defenders.
2. Will Marcus Mariota keep his interception-less streak alive against Washington State’s secondary?
Lindsey Tucker — This season, Washington State has 11 interceptions. However, I don’t see star quarterback Marcus Mariota repeating last year’s mistakes. The Heisman front-man saw two of his six interceptions of 2012 from the Cougars, but he has improved tremendously this season and will continue his streak of zero turnovers this Saturday.
Chris Mosch — In Mariota’s collegiate career, he has been picked off multiple times in a game just once. That game happened to be last year’s clash with the Cougars. The Honolulu native has made significant strides as a passer since then, but Washington State’s defense unit has tied for the sixth most interceptions in the FBS. Leading the charge for Washington State’s secondary is Deone Bucannon, who was responsible for both of Mariota’s interceptions the last time these two teams faced off. Mariota will have a strong game against a defense that ranks in the bottom third in passing yards allowed, but I predict that one Mariota pass will end up in the hands of a Washington State defender.
Madison Guernsey — WSU has forced 11 picks this season and senior DBs Deone Bucannon and Damante Horton are tied for third in the country with four interceptions apiece. That being said, Mariota has gone this far without turning the ball over, and I don’t see him ending that trend on Saturday. He bested Washington’s elite pass defense last weekend and should once again flourish, INT-free.
3. Final score?
Lindsey Tucker — This one is looking like another yawner. Although, Washington State is fourth in the North Division of the Pac-12, their largest wins have come against Southern Utah, Idaho and California, two of which have worse records than the Cougars. It comes as no surprise that Oregon is the favored team in this matchup. They have the second-ranked scoring offense in the nation, average 56.8 points per game and scored 55 points or more in all of the first five game. This game will end at 52-10.
Chris Mosch — Halliday and the “Air Raid” offense has torn apart Southern Utah, Idaho and California — two of the five worst scoring defenses in the FBS and a Division II team. In his other four games this season, Halliday has thrown two touchdowns against nine interceptions and averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt. Washington State may put up a garbage-time touchdown, but Oregon’s defense will shut down Halliday and crew while Mariota continues his charge toward the Heisman. Oregon rolls, 57-13.
Madison Guernsey — This one could get ugly. Washington State is an improved squad under second year head coach Mike Leach, but they’ve given up 46 points per game in three losses this season. Halliday turns the ball over too much and the running game is almost non-existent, making the Cougars’ offense one-dimensional and predictable. Mariota and the rest of Oregon’s starters won’t play in the fourth quarter of this one, Oregon cruises 49-10.
4. Who will come out on top in Palo Alto? No. 9 UCLA or No. 13 Stanford?
Lindsey Tucker — UCLA and Stanford have a lot riding on this game, including a possible BCS bowl berth. This will definitely be a nail-biter with both teams ranked in the Top 25, although Stanford has the home-turf advantage. Both teams have excellent quarterbacks in Brett Hundley and Kevin Wogan. Hundley has the third-best passing efficiency in the Pac-12 with Hogan right behind in fourth. The No. 9 team and the No. 13 team will face off in an epic battle Saturday, but I predict UCLA will come out on top with the statistics they’ve been racking up in a somewhat unexpectedly successful season.
Chris Mosch — Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan draws a tough matchup in which to bounce back from his first career loss as a starter. UCLA’s defense has quietly emerged as one of the best units in the country, ranking 12th in the nation in passing yards per attempt and 25th in yards per carry. On the other hand, the Cardinal defense has allowed over 400 yards of offense in three of its last four games and will have its hands full against UCLA’s offense. Led by Brett Hundley — who is coming off a career-best 410 passing yards against California — the Bruins have averaged the fifth most yards per game in the FBS. Their leading rusher, Jordon James, is dealing with an ankle injury and is unlikely to suit up on Saturday but I predict the Bruins will have enough star power between Hundley and OLB Anthony Barr to deal Stanford consecutive losses for the first time since Andrew Luck’s freshman year.
Madison Guernsey — This is a huge game for both schools as each side has BCS bowl berths on the line. UCLA has been playing inspired football and has overachieved a bit this season. The Bruins begin a brutal two-game road trip to Palo Alto and Eugene. Stanford hasn’t looked as good as its preseason No. 5 ranking and will be playing to make up for its upset loss to Utah last Saturday. Brett Hundley and Kevin Hogan are two of the best quarterbacks in the country and are complimented by elite defenses. While UCLA is the better team, the Cardinal faithful will fuel Stanford to a redemption win in a nail biter.