Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

October 16, 2018 at 8:33 pm.

Ducks face fourth consecutive Top 25 opponent

Entering the season, expectations were reasonable for Oregon. For a team on its third head coach in as many years, the Ducks wanted to win games they should, have no bad losses and end up around eight wins, putting them into a fairly competitive bowl game.

No. 12 Oregon (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) is more than ahead of schedule.

“I just like the way Oregon football plays,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “The investment is starting to pay off.”

Last Saturday’s 30-27 overtime victory over rival Washington signified the Ducks’ growth and their ability to overcome adversity. And here comes more potential adversity — a Saturday game against No. 25 Washington State, which will be extra hyped because of an appearance from ESPN’s College Football GameDay show.

Washington State is 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Pac-12.

“Coach Leach has done an incredible job everywhere he’s been,” Cristobal said of Washington State head coach Mike Leach. “He really knows how to attack defenses — he knows where the holes are and the way that offense is designed, that offense is designed to expose those holes.”

Beyond schemes and play calling, mentality will be an important factor for Oregon, which has quickly moved from hunter to hunted in the Pac-12 North.

“You always address it because it’s out there and they’re going to hear it, they’re always going to hear that,” Cristobal said of Oregon winning. “But immediately bring it right back down to earth — focus that we use every single week is understanding that we need to win tomorrow’s practice.”

Saturday’s matchup will be the fourth consecutive Top 25 team the Ducks have faced. Oregon is 2-1 in those games, suffering a heart-breaking loss to Stanford before rebounding with victories over Cal and Washington. The Ducks are tied for first place in the Pac-12 North with Stanford, Washington and the Cougars.

“This thing is a tight race and going to be a tight race with how wide open the Pac-12 is, not to mention the North division,” Cristobal said.

Washington State and Oregon each average more than 40 points and 400 yards per game, Defensively, they each give up less than 25 points and 365 yards per game.

But they differ on how they reach those stats.

For the Ducks, it’s about balance between passing and running the ball. The more balanced they are offensively, the harder they are to predict and stop.

“They are kind of a running team, I think — they’re one that has that sense of balance that appeals to a lot of people … they’re 50-50ish,” Leach said. “They don’t run the quarterback quite as much; he throws more than some of their others have. But they’re similar type of athletes … a lot of team speed out there for them.”

As with any Leach-led offense, the Air Raid is the staple of the attack. The Cougars’ propensity for passing is something that has given the Ducks fits over the years because of their porous pass defenses.

“They like to throw the ball, it’s obvious. They’ve got the top passing offense in the conference, one of the best in the country, if not the best,” Cristobal said. “Our guys have to really just burn our eyes watching film and watching formations, watching everything that relates to what they’ve done to have success.”