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Oregon Ducks vs. Washington State Cougars: Keys to the Game

I said that my new page wouldn’t just be politics! The site is called “Bill Post’s Point of View”!

First of all, why the game is at 7:30 Pacific time I do not understand. With the Cal game cancelled today due to Covid on the team, that should have opened a slot in the day for the Oregon vs. Wazzu game. This game has great importance for not only the two teams playing but for the entire PAC-12. If the conference wants to be represented in the College Football Playoff, Oregon is it’s best shot. I know that drives Oregon State fan crazy, but it is what it is. And we’ll get to that game later this month. The importance of this game not just for CFB purposes but for the PAC-12 to shine nationally as the Cougars, with a win tonight, could tie up the North and throw the whole conference into a frenzy. So why this game at 7:30 when the East Coast is fast asleep? I have no idea but let’s get to the game. And at least it is on national TV on ESPN so no struggling to find the Pac-12 Network.

Both team’s control their own destiny in the Pac-12 North division. The winner of Saturday’s game will be in first place. An Oregon win would all but lock up the North division, while a WSU victory would require another Cougar win over the final two weeks.  The Cougars enter winners of four straight games in Pac-12 play. The Cougars are coming off an impressive 34-21 win over Arizona State on the road before taking a bye week last week. The Ducks will be tested by Washington State’s offense. With the Cougars likely to attempt a high number of passes, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, arguably the best edge rusher in America, could be in for a monster night. WSU has struggled at times defending the run, so Travis Dye could be in for another impressive stat line in Week 11. Look for the Ducks to try and win big as they continue to push towards earning a spot in the CFP.

With that set up here’s four keys to this game for either team:

1 – Turnovers

 

Washington State has played nine games this season. Thirty-four turnovers have been lost between the two teams in those games. So on average, about four turnovers take place each and every week in games the Cougars play in. WSU has a Pac-12 best 20 forced, but is also near the worst in giving it away with 14. Oregon needs to win the turnover battle on Saturday. Doing so was Oregon’s biggest saving grace defensively in its first four games. They forced 13 in them. Yet, since then, the Ducks have just four in five games. Four of those five came in the win over UCLA, meaning they didn’t force a single turnover in three of them. Oregon must take the ball away from Washington State on Saturday, and they must protect the ball against a team with a propensity for flipping games with forced fumbles and picks.

 

2 – The Line Play

Oregon wants to run the football each and every week. For the most part this season, they’ve succeeded in doing so. They’ve run for over 200 yards in four of their past five games. The lone game where they failed to do so came against UCLA, in a game where they threw it at a season-high clip and ran it at a low clip based upon matchups. The matchups in this game call for Oregon to run the ball. Washington State has a middling run defense that lacks some of the necessary beef in the middle. If the Ducks don’t surpass 200 yards in this one, that will be a disappointing result. The same should be true on the other side of the ball. Oregon’s run defense has been steadily improving this year as the personnel combinations have become more consistent. Only one team has run for 200 yards this season against them, and Washington State shouldn’t become the second to do so. WSU is 10th on ground yards per game this season among conference teams. They average 115.7 yards per game on about 30 rushes per game. Keeping them below that line feels like a must given how prolific their pass offense can be.

3 – Stupid Penalties

The Ducks did a nice job overall in Seattle of avoiding the 15-yard flags that have hurt them so many times in big moments this season. While the flags in Palo Alto in the Stanford game were largely questionable in the final two minutes, those penalties paved the way for Oregon’s lone loss this season. I think it’s also notable that if the Ducks aren’t flagged on consecutive plays for 15-yarders on its penultimate drive against UW, that the final score is likely 33-16. Those two penalties were costly. They have to play more measured football. I’d also note to be wary of penalties in defensive coverage. WSU will likely throw it more than any of the past half-a-dozen or so opponents they’ve played. Avoiding pass interference calls and playing cleaner coverage also feels pivotal. The Ducks are currently ninth in the Pac-12 penalty yardage.

4 – Quarterback Play

It’s not by mistake that Oregon’s lone loss this season came on Anthony Brown’s worst individual performance. He’s played much better overall since the Stanford game. He’s not been perfect, and consistency remains a concern. Some games he starts on fire and fizzles late, and other instances, like against UW, he struggles early but is able to rally. Oregon won’t hold WSU to 16 points like they did UW last week. Oregon’s offense will need a better overall showing to best the Cougars. That starts with play at QB. The Ducks can run the ball tonight, but getting contributions from Brown in the passing game and as a runner feels necessary also. I do not want to hear the “boo birds” at Autzen tonight. It’s still not Ty Thompson’s time yet. Give the kid a year and he’ll be fantastic. This is AB’s time now!

So Vegas has the Ducks by 14. I would love to head down to the Fallon Nugget and plop $20 on the Ducks but not at that -13.5! I think the Ducks win this game by 10 and it will be a high scoring game. The over/under is 57.5 as of this writing. I think I’d be comfortable in taking the over.

 

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