WSU ready to start conference play against Oregon


Redshirt junior running back Gerrard Wicks plows his way into the end zone against the University of Idaho on Sept. 17. The Cougars face an Oregon Ducks offensive unit ranked 12th in the nation in total offesnive yards on Saturday.

The University of Oregon (2-2, 0-1) makes its way to Martin Stadium to take on the Cougars in WSU’s conference opener.

The Cougars enter conference play with a 1-2 overall record. The team had a bit of a rough start, losing its first two games by three points, but looks at the conference season as a clean slate.

“We’re really excited,” junior cornerback Marcellus Pippins said. “We can’t wait to play our first conference game against Oregon, under the lights, in a packed house and finally get it going — for real this time.”

Getting the offense going early will be key to a victory this weekend. Even though the Cougars rank 17th in the country in total offense, if they start slow in the fashion they have in previous games this season, they could dig themselves a deep hole to climb out of against a high-powered Ducks offense.

The Ducks are ranked 12th in the nation in total offensive yards, even after missing standout junior tailback Royce Freeman for last week’s game against Colorado and most of the previous contest in week three versus Nebraska. Freeman sustained a leg injury in a game against Nebraska earlier in the season.

The Oregon offense is led by a dual-threat graduate transfer quarterback in senior Dakota Prukop. Prukop has thrown for more than 1,000 yards in four games this season and racked up 97 yards rushing in the Ducks’ loss to the University of Nebraska.

The threat of a mobile quarterback was not as prevalent in last year’s victory in Eugene, but the Cougars defense believes it can contain the rushing threat.

“It’s just focusing on our own technique and running the defense the coaches tell us to,” Pippins said. “Then we just execute, get downhill, and find the ball.”

While Freeman remains day-to-day for the Ducks, there are two other running backs on the roster that stand out.

Redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James and redshirt junior Kani Benoit are both averaging seven yards per carry in a combined 63 attempts.

Oregon has scored 15 rushing touchdowns so far this season, which accounts for more than 56 percent of the Ducks’ offensive touchdowns. Six of the team’s total touchdowns through its first four games were scored by Brooks-James and Freeman is not far behind at four, even after missing a game.

WSU football Head Coach Mike Leach says that the Cougars are not preparing based on whether or not Freeman will play.

“It really doesn’t change anything,” Leach said. “The guys come flying to the hole as fast as they can, trying to get as many yards as they can. Freeman is a really good player, but in any case, we are going to try and have people there to tackle him.”

The Cougars did not start the season the way they hoped to, but have remained stellar offensively.

Led by redshirt junior quarterback Luke Falk, WSU currently ranks 17th in the country in offensive yards per game and third in passing yards per game. The Cougars have 11 passing touchdowns in three games, making up almost 69 percent of WSU touchdowns this season.

A precedent of high volume passing has been set in Leach’s tenure at WSU, and the first two games were par the course with the team passing for more than 400 yards in each. However, in the third game of the season against Idaho, the Cougars rushed for more than 200 yards as a team behind 126 yards on 14 attempts from redshirt freshman James Williams.

Defensively, the Cougars have struggled to start the season, surrendering 45 points to FCS Eastern Washington but have trended upward over the last two games.

“We’ve got to stop coming out flat,” Pippins said. “We’ve been coming out flat the last couple of games. We need to come out fast and be in a rhythm before the game starts.”

Oregon comes off a 41-38 loss to the University of Colorado (3-1, 1-0) in which it had a chance to win the game with less than a minute to play. The Ducks turned the ball over in the end zone and the game was sealed for the Buffalos.

WSU is coming off the extra rest of an early bye week. The timing of the bye week was not ideal in the eyes of the team, but everyone agreed that last week was when players needed it the most.

“It’s right before Pac-12 play so you can regroup and focus on going into Pac-12 play,” redshirt senior nickel Colton Teglovic said.

With the extra rest and preparation from the bye week under their belt, the Cougars will take the field with confidence. Though poised, WSU realizes that they will be in for a 60-minute dogfight come game time.

“To win a game in the Pac-12, you’ve got to bring you’re A-game,” Teglovic said.

The game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium. The game will broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks.