Is Washington State still a Division-1 team? Sometimes I forget.
When you’ve only won one road game since 2007, needed late-game heroics to squeak past a winless Washington squad for their only Pac-10 win in 2008, and a 30-27 home win against Southern Methodist a few weeks ago qualifies as a major upset, sometimes you’re left out of the spotlight.
Which is why, when Oregon, fresh off a 42-3 shellacking of then No. 6 Cal, hosts the Cougars this Saturday, they might as well be playing against South Eugene High. Hey, at least the Axemen are undefeated.
So what do I expect to happen this Saturday in Autzen Stadium? A complete, total, no mercy, shove-it-down-your-throat beat down.
Washington State has proved to be a doormat against Pac-10 teams the past few seasons, averaging an impressive 51-8 loss last season in conference play. And the Ducks have certainly been a part of that, winning four of their last five contests against the Cougars, including a 63-14 win last season in Pullman and 53-7 defeat at Autzen in 2007.
After the Oregon offense sleepwalked through the preseason, the Ducks found their form against Cal, playing an absolutely perfect game on both sides of the ball. And even more importantly, gaining the confidence they will need to challenge for the conference title.
“On offense, the sky’s the limit for us,” QB Jeremiah Masoli said after the game. “We’re the only ones who can hurt us. These last couple of weeks we’ve been in a funk, but today we moved past that.”
With Masoli finally remembering that Ed Dickson is on the field, LaMichael James emerging as a weapon out of the backfield, and Chip Kelly feeling more comfortable with calling plays as a head coach, there is little chance that the nation’s last ranked defense will be able to slow down the high-flying Ducks’ offense.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, their offense isn’t much better than their defense. They average 314.3 yards per game and have committed 13 turnovers, leading to a paltry 17 points per game, good for 109th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The biggest reason for their offensive woes has been bad quarterback play. Last year, the position played so poorly they were forced to resort to their intramural teams for depth. And this year hasn’t been much better, receiving below average performances from senior Kevin Lopina and sophomore Marshall Lobbestael.
But head coach Paul Wulff thinks he has found a solution in freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel.
Tuel will become the first freshman quarterback to start at Washington State since Drew Bledsoe in 1990. He earned the start with a strong performance after replacing Lobbestael against USC, going 14-for-22 for 130 yards and one interception. He ran nine times for 34 yards and was sacked four times.
So now that Oregon has climbed back to No. 16 in the AP poll after a two-week absence, expectations are once again riding high. Which is why anything less than an absolute blow out against the Cougars would be a massive disappointment.
Of course, after a huge win, there is always the possibility of a let-down game. But Kelly has his troops focused, with players buying into his mantra of “one game at a time.”
“Last week was a great memory that we created,” Kelly said, “but that’s all it is.”
Here’s to another great memory on Saturday evening in Autzen Stadium.