PULLMAN — Many schools have tried to stop the Oregon football team, just about none have succeeded.
But a year ago, Washington State slowed the Ducks, for two quarters at least. The Cougars went into the halftime trailing UO by a scant 23-19 margin.
While WSU went on to lose that game 51-26, a similar performance, if only for a half, would speak volumes about the Cougars’ potential going forward.
Although it may be too much to expect the Cougars to beat the Ducks — who have won 30 of their last 33 games — if WSU can at least give UO another scare, it can show it is still a dangerous team.
It will not be easy. While the coach at UO is different, with Chip Kelly moving to the NFL and former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich taking over, the Ducks’ offense has remained the same.
“It’s kind of a continuation,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “The most impressive thing, and I think it’s impressive on all (their coaches’) parts. They haven’t broken stride, really.”
That continuation is evidenced not only in the similarity of the playbook to last year’s team, but in how the No. 2 Ducks execute with an offense that commits a turnover or misses a block with the frequency of a Cuban general election.
“They’re really good at what they do; they minimize mistakes,” Cougars linebacker Darryl Monroe said. “If you can minimize mistakes as an offense it makes it really hard for the defense to not make a mistake.”
The Cougars responded to a 55-17 drubbing against Stanford by beating California 44-22 a week later. After last week’s punch to the gut, a 28-point loss to Oregon State, a good showing against Oregon will say a lot about WSU’s mental makeup. It will signify that the Cougars are still fighting, that the team hasn’t given up as it appeared to do in the disastrous fourth quarter against the Beavers.
Doing so will mean stopping, or at least containing, UO quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman favorite hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 233 pass attempts dating to last year, and has rushed for 426 yards on 41 carries.
“He’s very talented,” WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “Taylor Taliulu tells me — they know each other from (Hawaii) — that whatever sport he attempted he was always the best. He’s just a tremendous athlete.”
Can the Cougars bottle him up? They’ve faced one dual-threat quarterback this year, Auburn’s Nick Marshall, who rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns last week against Mississippi. WSU held Marshall to 99 yards passing and 27 yards on the ground, but that was his first game at the FBS level.
The Ducks have won every game this season by at least three touchdowns, and at times it has seemed like no one can keep it close.