Early in the season the Washington State Cougars appeared to be a different team. They began the year 3-1 and were even on the winning side of blowouts for the first times in recent memory.
However, after suffering 3 consecutive losses, 2 of which were to Pac-12 bottom-dwellers UCLA and Oregon State, the Cougars (3-4, 1-3) have come crashing back down to earth.
This week the downturn is expected to continue as Washington State travels to Autzen Stadium to take on the 2-time returning conference champion Oregon Ducks (6-1, 4-0).
The Ducks are currently ranked 7th in the nation and have won 6 straight games after an opening week loss to #1 LSU.
As if that was not a steep enough task for the Cougars, Oregon fans could see the return of star offensive players running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas.
Both players have missed time recently due to injuries. James, an All-American and current rushing leader in the nation, has been recovering from a dislocated elbow suffered late in an October 6th game against California. Thomas missed last week’s game against Colorado because of a knee injury, but many believe he could have played if the game was ever competitive.
Both Thomas and James have been practicing this week and if all goes as planned will be back in the starting lineup come kickoff on Saturday. Considering the Ducks have the 4th best scoring offense (48.1points/game) and rushing offense (323.0 yards/game) in the country, getting their stars back could make for an even longer afternoon for the Cougars.
Washington State will need to rely on backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael in the absence of injured started Jeff Tuel.
Though Lobbestael is technically the backup he has taken the vast majority of the snaps this season for the Cougars due to injuries to Tuel. He has performed very well statistically by completing 64% of his passes and has thrown for 15 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions. Although it should be mentioned he didn’t exactly tear up the All-Madden team by dominating the likes of Idaho State and UNLV.
Lobbestael will be facing an underrated Oregon defense that ranks in the top-25 in total defense.
The Ducks defense has not had the same aggressive attitude that they had last season which is reflected in their decreased number of turnovers forced. Oregon will need to get back to that aggressive style of play during their difficult stretch of games to close the season against Washington, Stanford and USC.
The key player for Washington State will be sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who is the deep threat for the Cougars that the Ducks will have to account for. Wilson has 6 touchdowns on the season and averages nearly 20 yards per reception.
The player that would typically cover Wilson that will be noticeably absent from the field Saturday is cornerback/punt returner Cliff Harris.
Harris, who was a preseason All-American for both positions, has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Chip Kelly following Harris’ traffic stop on Monday.
Oregon’s defensive and special teams star was suspended earlier in the year after being clocked at 118mph while driving with a suspended license. Since being reinstated to the team Harris has played a minor role in games, as he has failed to show Kelly enough to earn his starting job back.
This recent run in with the law may have been the last straw for Harris with the Ducks. Though Kelly will not make a definite ruling on the future his former star before an investigation is finished, the coach’s patience must be wearing thin.
If Harris wishes to ever wear the green and yellow (or whatever color Oregon may be wearing) again, he should do three things; play hard, keep his mouth shut, and get a bike. All three seem to have been strategies lost on him to this point.
Even without the option of having Harris on the field, the Ducks should have no trouble taking care of the Cougars. Oregon just hopes to gain rhythm with their returning players and avoid injuries going into their key three game stretch.
Washington State: 16 Oregon: 52
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.