(2) Oregon (3-0) at Washington State (1-2) (ET)

GAME NOTES: The second-ranked Oregon Ducks will begin their quest for the
Pac-12 Conference crown when they visit the Washington State Cougars at Martin
Stadium on Saturday night.

Aside from a bit of a stumbling block in the first half against Michigan
State, Oregon has had no trouble this season. The Ducks opened the campaign
with a 62-13 rout of FCS foe South Dakota, then came back in the second half
to best the Spartans, 46-27. They followed that effort with an easy 48-14 win
over Wyoming last weekend. All three of those tests came at home for the
Ducks, who are playing their first road game this weekend.

Washington State has been much-less impressive in the early stages of the
campaign. The Cougars dropped back-to-back tilts against Rutgers (41-38) and
Nevada (24-13) before settling for a 59-21 win over FCS foe Portland State
last Saturday.

The last time Washington State defeated Oregon was back in 2006, 34-23, in
Pullman. The Ducks have won seven straight since and lead the all-time series,
46-38-7. A year ago, they earned a 62-38 victory behind three rushing
touchdowns and 192 yards from Byron Marshall.

Marshall is still making plays for Oregon, although he has shared the workload
in the backfield this season. Royce Freeman (186 yards, five TDs) has been the
most dangerous back as he is tied for the Pac-12 lead in rushing touchdowns
with Arizona State’s D.J. Foster. Marshall has contributed 179 yards and a
touchdown, and Thomas Tyner has picked up 155 yards on a team-high 35 carries.

Marshall’s contributions are also felt in the passing game as he leads the
squad with 12 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Darren Carrington
(nine receptions, 172 yards), Keanon Lowe (eight receptions, 117 yards, TD)
and Devon Allen (seven receptions, 157 yards, three TDs) are key contributors
as well.

Of course the offense is really built around Marcus Mariota. The Ducks’
Heisman hopeful has completed 70.4 percent of his pass attempts for 806 yards
and eight touchdowns, while avoiding a single interception even against a
defensive-minde squad like Michigan State. Mariota is also a threat on the
ground, which by now is no surprise. However, teams still can’t seem to stop
him. He has 156 yards and three scores rushing the ball. He had perhaps his
most exciting touchdown run against Wyoming when he jumped over wideout Keanon
Lowe and a defender to score.

“I took off and thought I was close enough to the end zone, so I tried to jump
in there I guess,” Mariota said of the touchdown run. “If you play cautious
then you’re playing at half-speed and you end up getting yourself hurt. I
always take the warnings from the coaches, but I’ll end up doing what I have
to do.”

With Mariota at the helm the Ducks are yet again one of the best offensive
teams around, ranking 10th in the country in total yards (573.3 ypg) and fifth
in scoring (52 ppg).

Oregon has been solid, although not nearly as exciting, on defense. The Ducks
are letting up only 18 points per game, despite ranking next-to-last in the
Pac-12 in total defense (425 ypg). That is more a symptom of Oregon’s high-
powered offense getting off the field quickly and giving opponents more time
with the ball.

Erick Dargan (14 tackles, three INTs) has been a devastating playmaker in the
secondary, along with All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, while Tyson Coleman (2.0
sacks) spearheads the pass rush.

Washington State would very much like to be the consistent offensive power
that Oregon is each year. The Cougars certainly have the scheme to do so, as
well as a roster of talented offensive weapons. They are averaging 36.7 points
and 557 yards of total offense each week, ranking seventh and fourth in the
Pac-12, respectively.

However, unlike Oregon’s multi-layered attack, the Cougars are one of the most
one-dimensional programs in the country, with head coach Mike Leach preferring
to air it out rather than run the ball. The Cougars lead the nation in passing
yardage (517 ypg), but are third from the bottom in rushing yards (40 ypg).

Connor Halliday is the quarterback Leach has entrusted with his offense.
Halliday’s arm must be getting tired after working in the system the last
couple of years, but he has still thrown for 1,465 yards and 12 touchdowns, as
well as five interceptions, while completing 68 percent of his passes.

He has formed an excellent bond with Isiah Myers (26 receptions, 423 yards,
five TDs), who currently leads the Pac-12 in receptions and receiving yards.
Myers had his coming-out party against Portland State, securing 11 passes for
227 yards and three scores.

“I’ve been talking about that since the day he got here. He’s the best route
runner I’ve ever seen and I’ve always been in Isiah’s corner,” Halliday said
of Myers. “I’ve been waiting for a game like this, for him to blow up, so
everyone else could see it.”

Vince Mayle (25 receptions, 245 yards, three TDs), River Cracraft (15
receptions, 171 yards, two TDs) and Dominique Williams (10 receptions, 253
yards, two TDs) are also serious threats.

For how eye-popping their offensive numbers are, the Cougars really need to
clean things up on defense to become an elite team in the competitive Pac-12,
especially when teams like Oregon come knocking. They are allowing 28.7 points
and 394 yards per game.

Oregon is once again playing like the juggernaut everyone expects to see each
year. Washington State may be putting up impressive offensive numbers as well,
but its inability to shift from the passing game has proven to be a real
weakness. Expect a rowdy crowd in Pullman, but one that will go home

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon 48, Washington State 23