The Ducks are headed into conference play in a solid spot at 2-1. A 41-20 win over the BYU Cougars in week three looks like it's answered some questions about this team's physicality and ability to step up to make plays on the big stage.
Now the challenge becomes carrying that momentum over into Pac-12 play, and Oregon gets a sneaky matchup with the Washington State Cougars.
Here are three keys for the Ducks to leave Pullman with a victory in week four, their first true road test under Dan Lanning.
1. Get after the quarterback
Oregon's defense has shown steady improvement from week to week in 2022. They came up with some big stops against BYU that helped establish control of the game and strip away any momentum the Cougars attempted to create.
However, through three games the Ducks have just three sacks on the season. Facing one of the better quarterbacks in the conference in WSU's Cameron Ward, creating some pressure and getting some hits early will help prevent him from getting too comfortable. Coaches and players alike have raved about his quick release all week, so at the very least you want to see the front seven knocking back a Cougars offensive line that is inexperienced, while keeping hands up to clog the passing lanes.
2. Establish the run
One of the biggest unknowns about this team is which parts of the game travel on the road. Faced with one of the most hostile environments in the Pac-12, the Ducks will need to be locked in and execute at a high level.
There's no doubt Washington State fans will attempt to rattle Bo Nix. But what's a quarterback's best friend? Well, other than an elite offensive line (which Oregon has), it's a strong run game.
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The Ducks are averaging five yards per carry and 205 yards per game, led by the duo of Mar'Keise 'Bucky' Irving and Noah Whittington. Pound the rock early, and you not only establish a physical brand of football, but you take pressure off of your quarterback, while opening up the rest of your playbook. Sounds like a win-win.
3. Win the turnover battle
Any time you're faced with a tough road test, you'll take any advantage you can get over your opponent. That's especially true when it comes to turnovers. The defense has forced two turnovers thus far, both of which came against Eastern Washington.
If Oregon can execute the first key on this list, the secondary won't be forced to cover as long and they'll be in an advantageous position to take the ball away. If the hard-hitting linebacker Justin Flowe is available maybe we'll see some fumbles.
This defense has tons of playmakers on the back end like Christian Gonzalez and Trikweze Bridges. Taking care of the ball on offense and forcing turnovers on defense could blow a close game wide open in Oregon's favor.
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