Oregon faces pass-happy Cougar offense
SPOKANE, Wash. — Oregon defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu says playing against pass-happy Washington State is not a hardship but an opportunity.
"If the quarterback's planning on throwing it 60 times, then there's going to be a lot of chances for us to make plays on the ball," Ekpre-Olomu said.
Actually, just 60 passes would be a relatively modest total for Washington State, which boasts the nation's top passing offense heading into tonight's Pac-12 opener against the second-ranked Ducks in Pullman, Washington.
Last year, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball an NCAA-record 89 times as Oregon beat the Cougars 62-38 in Eugene, Oregon.
"As a cornerback or as a defensive back in general, you just have to be on your toes every play, you can't take any plays off because the ball might come your way every play," Ekpre-Olomu said.
Oregon (3-0) has won seven straight games against Washington State (1-2), which opened the season with losses to Rutgers and Nevada, games the Cougars were expected to win.
Last weekend, the Cougars produced 706 yards of offense, including a Pac-12-record 630 yards passing, while beating Portland State of the FCS 59-21.
"He (Halliday) gets the ball out of his hand extremely fast," said Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum. "And he can read defenses really fast so when that ball is snapped and it gets in his hand, he knows where he's going with it."
Pellum said the Oregon defense must play sharp.
"You've got to play with a great intensity because if someone misses a tackle, it could become a bigger play," Pellum said.
Meanwhile, Washington State must find a way to deal with the speed of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and the rest of the Ducks.
The best technique is having all 11 defenders running to the ball on each play, Cougars linebacker Cyrus Coen said.
"Effort, effort, effort," Coen said. "Effort is going to kill the speed."
Coen denied that this week's opponent is any different from other opponents, even though the Ducks are so highly ranked.
"In our conference rankings don't matter," Coen said. "Any team can win."
Oregon has a banged-up offensive line, but Mariota doesn't think that will hamper the Ducks' potent offense.
"I think for us we're just going to have to over-communicate and make sure everyone's on the same page," Mariota said.
Some things to know about Oregon's game at Washington State:
PARTY LIKE IT'S 1988: Beating No. 2 Oregon would arguably be the most significant victory for Washington State since the Cougars upset No. 1 UCLA in 1988. And Washington State coach Mike Leach beat No. 1 Texas when he was at Texas Tech. "Really you just keep building," Leach said of that Tech victory. "As time goes on you develop players who have experience winning."
JUST WIN, BABY: Oregon owns the best overall winning percentage in college football this decade at 89.3 percent. The Ducks are 50-6 so far this decade.
THE NUMBERS: Oregon has beaten its opponents this season by an average score of 52-18. The Ducks also average 243 yards rushing per game, compared to 40 for Washington State. But both teams feature potent air attacks, with WSU averaging 517 yards passing and Oregon 330. Combined, the two teams average more than 1,000 yards of offense per game.
AIR RAID: WSU's 706 yards of total offense against Portland State last week were a school record, breaking the previous mark of 693 set against Idaho in 1975. The seven passing touchdowns tied a school record. Receiver Isiah Myers caught 11 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns. He leads the Pac-12 with 26 receptions and 423 yards receiving this season.
LOT OF FANS: Oregon may be favored by more than three touchdowns, but that hasn't dampened enthusiasm in Pullman. The game is sold out at 33,000-seat Martin Stadium and Washington State was selling standing-room tickets this week. It is Oregon's first trip to Pullman since the 2010 season.