Cougs go Duck hunting

WSU looks to take control of Pac-12 North, faces No. 3 Oregon on Saturday



WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) prepares to hand off the ball on a two-point conversion during the second half of a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen sports editor

The Cougs (5-4, 4-2) are set to take on No. 3 Oregon (8-1, 5-1) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Autzen Stadium and televised on ESPN.

WSU is coming off a bye week in week 10, last playing ASU and winning 34-21 in the upset. Oregon will take the field at home in Eugene on a four-game win streak, beating four Pac-12 opponents in the last four weeks, most recently the Washington Huskies 26-16.

The Cougs only have a 17.3 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, as is the case for most of WSU’s matchups this year.

“When you look at Oregon, the biggest thing and why I have such high regard and respect for their program is it’s not just good players,” Jake Dickert, WSU interim head coach, said. “They’re coached well, their schemes are very detailed and attack people week to week.”

In their last five games this season, both WSU and Oregon are 4-1, taking the top two ranks in the Pac-12 North division. The matchup will likely help decide who will represent the division in the Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas. Coming to the end of the season, a loss against WSU would also lessen Oregon’s chances of making the CFB playoffs. 

A win for the Cougs would put the team at 6-4 and possibly able to take the top spot in the North, beating both the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State in the division.

“I think it’s the biggest game of the year because it’s the only one we’re playing this week,” Dickert said. “That’s our approach and that’s always been our approach.”

WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura and Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown have similar season stats so far, with de Laura throwing 160-251 for 1,967 yards and Brown throwing 153-241 for 1,895 yards. 

De Laura leads the Pac-12 with 17 touchdown passes this season, mainly targeting receivers Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris. Jackson Jr. and Harris have five and six touchdown receptions respectively so far this season. Against ASU, de Laura threw the long ball confidently, resulting in a 45-yard touchdown for Jackson Jr. and a 28-yard touchdown for Harris. 

To stop de Laura from having success downfield, linebacker Noah Sewell and cornerback Mykael Wright will need to have control in the middle of the field. Both Sewell and Wright have over 30 solo tackles so far this season. Sewell leads the Ducks in total tackles with 79 tackles, including assists.

Oregon’s offense runs a dynamic combination of plays, able to advance the ball in the air and in the hands of running back Travis Dye. This year, the junior Dye has 820 yards in 134 attempts. Ducks quarterback Brown has the second-most rushing yards on the team with 428 yards in 92 attempts. 

“He’s a dynamic player, and I know he’s hard to bring down, and he’s fast and quick,” Dickert said about Dye. “He hits the holes, and I think he’s just a very versatile guy they use in many different forms and ways. You know, he’s an old school player, he doesn’t wear gloves, I mean there’s a lot of things that are just positive.”

When the ball is in the air, Dye leads the team with 26 receptions. The third-most targeted receiver is Devon Williams with 20 catches on the year. Williams leads the team in receiving yards with 322 yards, averaging 16.1 yards every catch. 

Matching up against Williams will likely be Daniel Isom for the Cougs. This year, Isom has been a major part of protecting against air-raid offensive styles, such as that of USC. 

Having played ASU and their quick-moving quarterback Jayden Daniels, WSU’s defensive plan moving to this week is probably similar: protect against quarterback runs.

Against ASU, the Crimson and Gray forced five turnovers on defense with three fumbles and two interceptions. If the Cougars’ defense can set the tone with a few defensive stops early in the game, de Laura and the offense need to capitalize on the other side of the ball. 

A few players to watch on defense for the Cougs are Ron Stone Jr., Brennan Jackson, Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers. In all of the FBS, WSU is tied for the second-most fumble recoveries partly because of those four players. 

Against ASU, Rogers was part of both early fumbles in the game, a major reason for WSU taking an early lead against the Sun Devils.

A key part of early game drives for the Cougs is running back Deon McIntosh. Against ASU, McIntosh scored a touchdown and ran for 68 yards. Most of McIntosh’s yards come from runs up the middle where McIntosh seems most comfortable and efficient, able to power through gaps made by the offensive line. 

With Max Borghi mixing snaps with McIntosh, the WSU offense always has a running threat in the arsenal. So far this season, Borghi leads the Cougar run game with 571 total rushing yards. 

With both teams hot in recent games, this matchup will be interesting to watch and a crucial game for the North division standings.

Fans can tune in at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN for coverage of the game.