The banged up Ducks will provide interesting road test for No. 11 WSU

Photo Credit: FanSided

For the first time in the 2017 season, the No. 11 Washington State Cougars (5-0, 2-0) will be leaving the friendly confines of Martin Stadium as they travel to Eugene, Ore. to battle the Oregon Ducks (4-1, 1-1). Oregon is entering the without starting quarterback Justin Herbert after he broke his collar bone, and with star running back Royce Freeman being listed as probable.

Despite these injuries, the Ducks entered the week as 2.5 point favorites.

If Royce Freeman is truly hurt, that takes a dynamic running back out of the picture that has shredded WSU’s run defense over the last few seasons — minus 2016. The senior has averaged 5.7 yards per carry in 2017 and he has been excellent at getting outside to take advantage of mismatches with linebackers. If Freeman is able to go on Saturday evening, he will not have the same speed advantage he has enjoyed over the other defense’s Oregon has played this season. Which is good news for Washington State, as they were able to pretty much shut him down last season in Pullman — outside of a couple of runs.

In the event that Freemen isn’t able to go on Saturday, expect Tony Brooks-James to get the lion share of the carries. Brooks-James is averaging 3.4 yards per carry on 42 carries. Another running back to keep an eye on is Kani Benoit, he is currently averaging 8.5 yards pen carry.

Oregon’s big loss is starting quarterback Justin Herbert, he’s got an incredible deep ball that has forced defenses to respect the pass…which has left space for the running backs. Herbert’s immediate backup Taylor Alie is more of a one dimensional running threat and doesn’t really have the capability to stretch the defense vertically, which is a problem for Willie Taggart’s offense; which is one of the reasons the Ducks will probably start true freshmen Braxton Burmeister — Alie also left the Cal game with an injury, but is currently listed as probable. Bumeister is a dual-threat quarterback, which will provide a wrinkle for Alex Grinch’s defense because they have yet to face a true duel threat QB this season.

Defensively, Oregon’s defensive coordinator is Jim Leavitt — he was in charge of Colorado’s defense last season — and the Ducks defense has shown some signs of improvement already. Their biggest area of improvement has been the run defense, which has only allowed 2.6 yards per carry in ’17 (compared to 5.7 yards per carry last season). If Jamal Morrow and James Williams struggle to find space against Oregon’s front seven, than the offense’s production is going to come down to Luke Falk’s ability to shred the Ducks’ secondary.

Oregon’s defense is allowing a completion percentage of 51.5% this season, compared to 64.8% in 2016, which is a major improvement; but they’ve struggled when facing a veteran quarterback this year — ASU’s Manny Wilkins torched the Ducks for 347 yards through the air. The reason for that is this is an incredibly young secondsr that has rarely been tested, so it’s easier for veteran signal callers to bait them. This game should be a chance for Falk to put up some huge numbers, and break some more confernce records.

Prediction

Oregon’s defense shuts down the run throughout the first half, but can’t slow down Falk. The redshirt senior absolutely shreds the defense, relying heavily on the short and intermediate routes to suck the Ducks’ young secondary in before hitting some deep passes down field. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around Leavitt’s unit is exahusted, which gives Morrow and Williams all the space the need in the middle of the field.

On defense, Freeman plays — but sparingly — and rips off a couple of huge runs to keep the Ducks moving down field. After a couple of tough drives, Burmeister hits his groove after making a couple of tough throws while on the run and the freshmen realizes Washington State’s defense struggles to handle a true duel-threat QB. But the freshmen makes a mistake late and throws an inteception with less than a minute left in the game to seal the Cougars’ sixth straight victory.

No. 11 Washington State Cougars   45

Oregon Ducks                                       38

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