By REED NELSON
That Arizona game was full of surprises, eh?
Oregon’s defense was the star of the Pac-12 opener, shutting out the Wildcats for the first time since the Bay of Pigs was a hot news item. Oregon’s offense managed a paltry — yeah, I said it — 495 yards of total offense. De’Anthony Thomas looked kind of, sort of human. Bryan Bennett was more effective on the ground than Marcus Mariota. TE Colt Lyerla was more effective on the ground than Barner and Thomas both. And Arizona, despite early indications otherwise, is still not ready for the Autzen thunder.
Thank you, Washington State, you arrived just in the nick of time.
What could be better than the Cougars right now?
(A Buffalo Wild Wings nearby, a sixth season of the Wire, free beer… Not the point.) Nothing! The game is in Seattle, which gives fans reason to travel. WSU is coached by Mike Leach, a.k.a. At Least Our Offense Should Have Been Good (But No Promises Broken On Defense, Which Also Sucks) Leach. Oregon needs to establish momentum coming into the Washington game, and the Cougs should be a perfect tune up.
Trap game? Sure, they all are at this point. But this trip wire is made of yellow caution tape and its presence is announced by Michael Buffer and a foghorn. Oregon’s 2’s should be able to diffuse it, and if all goes according to plan, they should have a shot.
Keys to victory (Or how to make the trip to Seattle worth it)
No early mistakes
Travis Long is no mope on defense. He leads the Pac-12 with 6.5 sacks, and with the unpredictable nature of WSU’s defense has helped him wreak havoc all season. But Long’s production somehow hasn’t provided much of a boost to the bumbling Cougar defense, who rank dead last in the Pac-12. If the Ducks can bottle up Long and keep him away from Mariota, they should start fast. If Long manages to get into the backfield early, however, WSU could gain some much needed momentum. While Mariota, who lost a fumble last week against Arizona, has been great this season, he has been a bit lax when handling the ball. Which brings me to my next point…
No fumbles (Or at least not five fumbles this time around)
The Ducks have been incredible on offense in 2012. They rank 3rd in the nation in total offense (571 ypg), 4th in scoring (52.8 ppg) and seventh in rushing (303.8 ypg). But the one area that has been more than alarming is Oregon’s ball security. They have fumbled the ball 14 times this season (123rd in the country), losing six of them. Only the 1-3 Arkansas Brokendreams have fumbled the ball more this season. The mistakes might fly against Arizona, and they should against Washington State, but that doesn’t change notion that the whole cough drop thing needs to stop. Now. Mariota claims to have been working on it, and there’s no better time to show the fruits of that labor than in the NFL’s loudest stadium this weekend.
Stop the Air Raid
For the second straight week, Oregon’s secondary will be put to work. Leach loves to pass, and in Connor Halliday, he has found a willing passer. Halliday loves to pass so much that he uses little discretion. Check that, he uses no discretion. If Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill can play the way they did last week, the I.E.O. Speedwagon could be off and running again.
Bring back Spike
This isn’t a key to victory, I just want to watch Colt Lyerla run again. He is Oregon’s version of Spike Hammersmith. He could carry refrigerators, solo, at the age of 12. He was a one-man wrecking crew on the pop-warner fields of Urbania, Ohio. His jersey’s rarely reach his naval. He is Spike Hammersmith, the most interesting Disney running back in the world1. The Ducks haven’t used him nearly enough, and I like the thunder-lightening-DAT! thing that could be. No mercy…
My pick: Oregon 56, Washington State 10.