By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
The positives outweigh the negatives from last week’s loss to Washington at Husky Stadium. Oregon was in a hostile road environment and got off to a better start to the game than they did against Stanford. Their team wasn’t overmatched in a way that brought back bad memories of 2021’s blowout losses to Utah. Dan Lanning had his team ready to go and they played well enough to win the football game, out gaining Washington by over 100 yards. All that was missing was the positive end result – and they were just one 4th and 3 conversion from getting that, too.
Oregon has made it clear through the first 7 weeks of the season (6 games) they’re good enough on both sides to win the Pac-12. Their offensive balance has been exceptional, led by Bo Nix who is having a Heisman-caliber season. In order to be a finalist he will have to lead the Ducks to the College Football Playoff, a goal that is still very much within reach for the No. 9 team in the country. The running game has been exceptional averaging 6.7 yards per carry despite the loss of Noah Whittington. Bo Nix has also been sacked just 4 times, and has not been under any sort of consistent pressure.
Oregon’s defense has improved, surpassing their 2022 sack total in less than half the time. The secondary has not allowed opposing receivers to run, as Jeffrey Bassa put it, “butt naked” as they did at times a season ago. They’re drastically improved on 3rd down defense as a result, which was a big issue last year. Opponents converted just over 46% of the time on 3rd down which was outside of 120th in the country. This year? Just over 34%.
Those numbers bring us to Washington State, a team I can’t get a great feel for right now. They started the season 4-0 with impressive wins over Wisconsin and Oregon State, both ranked inside the top 20 at the time of the Cougs’ wins. They scored 34.5 points per game in those contests, and have scored just 23 total in the last 2 weeks – both losses – against UCLA and Arizona.
I felt going into that game with the Wildcats that Arizona was capable of winning the game, but the final score was 44-6. Not even a Wildcat fan who shows up on game days armed with body paint and brews could have seen that coming. That game was in Pullman, a place where Oregon fans know full well how tough it can be to win. So what should we expect to see on Saturday in Eugene?
The Cougars’ offense put up just one touchdown on the road against UCLA and repeated that disappointing effort last week against Arizona. Oregon has a big advantage at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Cougars’ offensive line has struggled this season, in particular when it comes to running the football. They ran for just 35 yards against Arizona, and went for 12 the week prior against the Bruins down in Los Angeles. In steps Oregon’s defense, whose starters have not allowed a touchdown at home this season since Week 1 against Portland State.
I expect the front 7 to have a good game and put pressure on WSU’s quarterback Cameron Ward, who has had multiple turnovers each of the last two weeks. He’s a good football player and has that escapability trait that’s hard to teach, but he is the engine for this WSU offense. As he goes, the Cougars go. He threw for over 400 yards against Oregon State in their last win, and has failed to reach 200 yards in each of their last two losses with at least one interception.
I feel really confident in Oregon, not just because they’re at home. WSU allowed 242 rushing yards against Oregon State, I think Oregon could very well go for even more than that. I’ve also really liked what I’ve been hearing from the Oregon players and Dan Lanning after the loss. The emotional letdown after the UW game was always a possibility win or loss, but I see them avoiding that here.
Prediction: Oregon 44, Washington State 20
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.