Continuing our look at each of the opponents the Ducks will face in 2012, today Duck Sports Authority brings to you a first look at the first road game the Ducks will play in 2012. After four consecutive home games to open the 2012 season, the Ducks will make their first road trip to Seattle to play Washington State on September 29th next season. This is a blessing in disguise as the Ducks will not likely have to face the truly adverse weather conditions that can begin flying through Eastern Washington in late October. A game in late September in Seattle will make for an almost "neutral" feel as Duck fans are sure to travel well to watch this game.
Once again a major storyline for the Ducks will be the coaching change at Washington State. Former Duck Athletic Director Bill Moos made what many considered a "home run" hire when he was able to land former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach as the new Cougar head coach.
Coaching change. Mike Leach comes to Washington State with some baggage having gone through a very public, bitter divorce from his previous coaching position. Nonetheless, Leach did not forget how to coach in his time away from the field. Leach will bring an exciting brand of football to the Pac-12 with his aerial assault offense. Making the transition easier will be that there are some effective weapons that Leach will have at his disposal.
Returning Starters: 7
Key returners: Jeff Tuel, 6-3, 217, QB; Rickey Galvin, 5-8, 172, RB; Marquess Wilson, 6-4, 183, WR
Key Losses: Marshall Lobbestael, QB; Jared Karstetter, WR; B.J. Guerra, Guard
Key Arrivals: Gabriel Marks, 6-0, 175, WR, Venice High School
Mike Leach will need an experienced quarterback to pick up his high octane offense. Many would think losing a senior starter that completed 61% of his passes for over 2500 yards would be a loss, but Lobbestael started mostly as a replacement for the oft-injured Jeff Tuel. If Tuel can stay healthy, that should give Leach a quarterback he can trust to run the system. If Tuel is unable to stay healthy again, returning redshirt sophomore Connor Halliday showed promise in his late season appearances last season.
One of the great benefits Leach will have is an incredible receiver in Wilson who caught 82 passes for 1388 yards and 12 touchdowns during his sophomore season. Karstetter was a very reliable possession receiver and he will be missed by this offense. Gabriel Marks is the only Rivals 100 player signed by the Cougars in 2012 and he has a chance to come into Leach's aerial attack and make some plays.
Though Leach is known for his passing attack, he has a capable running back that fits the mold he played at Texas Tech as well. Galvin led the Cougars in 2011 with 602 yards on 5.3 yards per carry. Galvin's back-up, Carl Winston (5-8, 200) also returns for the Cougars.
The offensive line was a definite weak spot for the team last season as they gave up 39 sacks for the year. Even with Leach's quick passing attack, the line will need to play better if they expect success in their first season under Leach.
Early Offense Prediction: Mike Leach will look very heavily at the film from Oregon-USC in 2011 and feel inspired by the possibilities. If he can get a second and third weapon to try and overwhelm a still young secondary, Leach will feel very confident that the Cougars can score some points on the Ducks. Washington State will be looking for an early season upset of a top 5 team and will look to the air to get it done. Expect a lot of quick out passes early with Wilson then stretching the field. The Cougars will be even more prolific through the air this year than in 2011 and will put up plenty of passing yards. However, they will likely struggle in the red-zone as the field shrinks and the experienced Duck defense begins to tighten the clamps.
Returning Starters: 9
Key returners: Travis Long, 6-4, 256, Senior, DE; Anthony Laurenzi, 6-3, 287, Senior, DT; Damante Horton, 5-10, 174, Junior, CB
Key Losses: Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LB; Brandon Rankin, DT
Key Arrivals: Ioane Gauta, DT, 6-4, 300, Fullerton C.C.
The Cougars return most of their starters from 2011, but is that a good thing for a team that allowed nearly 410 yards per game and 32 points per game? The team gave up more than 450 yards in five different games including 453 to Idaho State in the opener. A new defensive coordinator is sure to shake up what the Cougars have been doing, but there are some good pieces to work with for Mike Breske.
Returning for the Cougars is their best pass rusher, Travis Long, who accounted for 42 total tackles last season, but led the team in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (4) last season. The entire defensive backfield returns including Damante Horton who picked off 4 passes for the Cougars last season, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Breske has a history of successful defenses at the FCS level with incredible success at Montana. He also served as a defensive coordinator for Wyoming and had very strong defenses during his tenure there as well. He has seen a lot of success wherever he has been, but this will be his first position at a BCS conference school.
Early Defense Prediction: Washington State had some surprising success against the Ducks in 2011, yet still gave up 454 yards of total offense. The team does not lose much and will have a very good defensive coach guiding them. Look for the Cougars to attack the Ducks much the same way Cal did in 2010 trying to make the Ducks beat them through the air. Bryan Bennett will not have faced a stiff defense heading into his fifth game in 2012. However, as with many opponents, Washington State lacks the type of speed needed to play four quarters against the Ducks. The Cougars will have some success early, but will be susceptible to the "big play" as the second and third quarters roll around. Also expect after two lackluster performances in a row against WSU that Coach Kelly will have this team prepared for a fired up Cougar team. The Ducks should be able to score and move the ball against the Cougars and their pace should cause the Cougars to wear down by the 4th quarter.
OREGON WILL WIN IF: Mike Leach will bring a complex offense to the Cougars. The Ducks defense will be experienced and even deeper in 2012 than they were over the last two seasons. If the Ducks defense creates pressure and confusion for Jeff Tuel, it could spell a long day for the Cougars. The offense should be at full throttle by this game. If the defense helps out with early turnovers, the Ducks will roll. Even without turnovers, the Ducks should be able to contain the offense and run wild on a defense not equipped to handle the Ducks speed and depth on offense.
OREGON WILL LOSE IF: The Ducks will be facing a kind of passing attack it has not seen in quite some time. It cannot compare to what USC was last season as the Cougars do not have that kind of talent. If the defensive backs lapse on their assignments and begin to give up larger chunks of yardage, then the Cougars could give the Ducks all they can handle. WSU will need big plays on offense and turnovers on defense to pull the upset. Oregon must play crisp on offense and disciplined on defense or this is a game that could knock the Ducks from the national title hunt.
PREDICTED OUTCOME: Unlike the last two seasons, the Ducks will be prepared for an improved WSU team that will pose some challenges on both sides of the ball. The Ducks should be able to roll out of Seattle with a comfortable victory over the Cougars.