Just a week after picking up their biggest win of the season in a comeback victory over the Washington Huskies, the Oregon Ducks have another big test on their hands as they look to slow the high-flying Washington State Cougars at home on Saturday night.
Will the Ducks experience any type of hangover from last week? Will the defense return to form? Let's get into some predictions and break down what we might see take place in Autzen.
The Ducks Will Get a Statement Win on National TV
When you think about Oregon's decade, dominance often comes to mind as a descriptor, as they've been near the top of the ranking in all but a couple of seasons since 2010. However, the Cougars have been their Achilles heel in the past several seasons, and they've lost four straight games to the hands of Mike Leach and his air-raid offense. That all changes on Saturday night.
The Ducks made a big statement by coming back from 14-points down and beating the Huskies, and they will make another one against the Cougars by shutting down the No. 1 scoring offense in the Pac-12 and leaving with a sizeable victory. The Ducks defense is hungry to regain its footing after slipping up against Washington, and they will take the challenge that QB Anthony Gordon poses and put on a dominant performance, holding the Cougars to just 24 points, which is a far cry from their season average.
Herbert Heats Up for the Heisman
Oregon QB Justin Herbert started out his senior season planted firmly in the mix for the Heisman Trophy race, but a lackluster start to the season saw him slip out of the running. However, an impressive performance against UW last week, in which he threw for 280 yards and four touchdowns, saw him regain some footing among the rest of the competition. According to ESPN, Herbert is now the sixth-highest player on their projected Heisman list, and the Ducks relatively weak strength-of-schedule the rest of the way means that he will need to put up some monster numbers in order to remain among the top of the competition.
I expect the Oregon offense will have their way against the Cougars on Saturday night, and I think that Herbert will be at the forefront of it all. Coming off of his best performance of the season, the senior quarterback will look to fight fire with fire and air it out against a Washington State defense that can be had. If I were to predict a stat-line, I'd say that Herbert throws for 330 yards in the air with 4 TD, and let's sprinkle in 40 yards rushing as well.
Gang Green 2.0 Comes Up with at Least 2 Turnovers
Though the Washington State offense might rank as the best in the Conference, the Oregon defense ranks among the best in the nation, and their secondary is something special this season. Let by safety Jevon Holland over the top, as well as cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham Jr. on the numbers, it's a tough task for any opposing quarterback to find much success throwing the ball downfield against them, and that's largely what the Cougars do.
With Gordon averaging over 55 pass attempts per game, the Oregon defense will have plenty of chances to ball-hawk the secondary and come up with some turnovers. The defensive line also has a very good chance of getting into the backfield and forcing a ball to the turf.
Cyrus Habibi-Likio Takes Over as the Lead RB
In the past three games, CHL has scored five touchdowns and his emergence in the second half of last week's thriller against Washington helped spur on the Ducks' comeback victory, as he racked up a career-high 81 yards.
Habibi-Likio was the third back on the totem pole coming into this season, but as of late he's proved to be one of their most dynamic weapons in the offense, and his bull-nosed running style offers a nice change of pace from the rest of the flashy scheme. While I'm not predicting that CJ Verdell and Travis Dye will have a bad game, I think that Saturday is the day where we really see Habibi-Likio take over as Oregon's most proficient runner.
Oregon (-14) Backers Have a Nice Pay-Day Awaiting Them
The Ducks are favored by 14 points at home in this game, and according to the 42-24 victory that we predicted earlier in the week — which to be honest feels a bit conservative — Oregon should be able to cover the spread. In fact, I think that they will blow the spread out of the water, and could end up winning this one by three touchdowns or more.
While the Moneyline (Oregon -400) and the Over/under (68) are slightly riskier propositions, I have a strong feeling that the Ducks will cover the spread, and make anyone who backed them glad that they did.