Oregon vs. WSU: X-factors and why the Ducks CAN win

With Oregon’s starting quarterback, Justin Herbert out for the next handful of weeks, it’s been a week full of questions in the world of Ducks Football.

As Oregon prepares to face a very tough Washington State team that is currently undefeated, the team has had its share of issues to work through. With its many injuries to key playmakers, primarily on offense, fans and pundits have been left to wonder and debate a little more than usual.

Who will start at QB in Herbert’s place? Redshirt senior and team veteran, Taylor Alie, or Braxon Burmeister, the true freshman and one of the nation’s most sought after duel-threat quarterbacks prior to committing to Oregon?

The questions don’t stop there.

Will leading receivers, Charles Nelson and Dillon Mitchell be back after injury and if they are, will they be 100%? And, perhaps most importantly, will Oregon’s Heisman contender, Royce Freeman be ready to go after being injured last week against Cal?

Conflicting Predictions

With so many unknowns on Oregon’s offensive side of the ball, predictions have proved pretty difficult this week. Vegas oddsmakers surprisingly predict a close game, reporters are all over the map and even the most die-hard Ducks fans may be feeling a bit, well. . .conflicted.

Admittedly, I was in the latter boat (shhhh). It’s obviously hard to fathom the Ducks beating a Cougar team that has found its stride under Mike Leach, especially after they managed to beat Oregon the past two years in a row.

With veteran QB, Luke Falk, leading the way, Washington State’s offense has been outstanding the season especially. Additionally, the Cougar defense has dramatically improved and currently ranks second in the Pac-12 in total defense and first in pass defense. On the surface, this all spells trouble for the Ducks.

Not so fast.

Reasons to be Optimistic 

Of course the Cougars will likely present a major challenge for the Ducks, but as we all know, anything can happen during Pac-12 After Dark. As it turns out though, there are several reasons why the Ducks absolutely have a shot tomorrow night under the lights.

Yes, Oregon’s starting QB, whoever that may be, will have to work out some (or many) kinks, but they will likely have one or more offensive playmakers back in the mix. This should definitely lighten the load.

Keep in mind too, despite losing last year’s game, Oregon did manage to score 33 points  against the Cougars, on the road, with a less-than-great performance by QB Dakota Prukop and then true freshman QB, Justin Herbert, taking over later in the game.

X-Factors

Ultimately, WSU won 51-33, but  the good news is that was against a very, very different Oregon defense-A defense that has improved leaps and bounds in just a year’s time under new Defensive Coordinator, Jim Leavitt. Also worth noting is the fact Leavitt’s Colorado defense was one of the only Pac 12 defenses to stop WSU last year. That should give Oregon fans a bit of comfort looking ahead to tomorrow night.

Another key factor that should work in Oregon’s favor against the cougars can again be found in the Ducks’ defense.

Looking back at last year’s match up, WSU’s usual Air Raid took a seat while the Cougar running backs had a hay day, scoring a combined 6 touchdowns. It turns out though, Oregon was playing without its up-and-coming star linebacker, Troy Dye- last season and this season’s (so far) leading tackler. With Dye in tomorrow night’s mix, those Cougar running backs should have a much harder time finding the end zone. Also in Leavitt’s rush defense pocket will be Oregon DE, Jalen Jelks who has made a huge splash this season.

In short, with Dye and Jelks leading the way and of course, a much-improved Oregon secondary, the Ducks should theoretically be much more prepared against Mike Leach and Co. If the offense can dig deep and do their part, the ducks may just swag surf to victory.

And who knows? We may even see Oregon’s future quarterback emerge.

If you look hard enough, there’s always a silver lining. After last Saturday though, that Silver lining was just a little harder to find.

Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl

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