Oregon-Washington St. Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 25, 2012
Offensive masterminds Chip Kelly of Oregon and Mike Leach of Washington State are set to meet for the first time. It's Kelly's defense, however, that is gaining in notoriety after its best performance of the year. The second-ranked Ducks posted their first conference shutout in nine seasons last weekend, and their next challenge is a Saturday night visit to Seattle's CenturyLink Field to face Leach and the Cougars. Watching these coaches match wits figures to be entertaining. Kelly's team is fifth in the country with 571.0 yards per game behind his famed spread offense while Leach, in his first season at Washington State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12), is known for his high-octane passing attacks at Texas Tech. "There's a lot of similarities," Leach said. "As a matter of fact, if you were to pinpoint a place that football's moved the furthest, it would be utilizing space. Oregon does a good job with that." There's also a major difference in offensive approaches since Oregon (4-0, 1-0) features the conference's best rushing attack at 303.8 yards per game while Washington State owns the second worst in the nation at 59.0. "Oregon runs a lot more than we do," Leach said. "There's nothing wrong with that certainly, but it's another way to utilize space." Kelly's offense totaled a season-low 495 yards last Saturday, but that was more than enough for a 49-0 home win over then-No. 22 Arizona - Oregon's first shutout of a conference opponent since 2003. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had two of the Ducks' four interceptions. "I always thought from the beginning that our defense was something special through fall camp, through spring ball," Ekpre-Olumu said. On a night when star running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas were limited to their lowest per-carry averages of the year, the Ducks' defense earned most of the plaudits in their Pac-12 opener. "It felt good, we're finally getting some credit," defensive back Troy Hill said. Ekpre-Olomu, Hill and the rest of the Oregon secondary figure to get plenty more chances for interceptions this weekend against Connor Halliday, who has been starting at quarterback in place of an injured Jeff Tuel for Washington State. Halliday has four touchdowns and two interceptions in each of his last two games, completing 32 of 60 passes last Saturday as the Cougars blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and lost 35-34 at home to Colorado. The junior knows he will be in for a bigger challenge this weekend. "Oregon's very sound defensively, they give you a bunch of different looks between their 40 and 30 fronts with their D-lineman where they are moving linebackers at the snap of the ball and their safeties are really active," Halliday said. "Their whole defense is really fast and they give you a bunch of things you have to prepare for." The Ducks have won five straight in the series, although the Cougars outgained them 462-454 in a 43-28 Oregon victory in Eugene on Oct. 29. Judging by last week, Oregon's defense has improved since then. "We just want to go out and do our thing, you know, play fast, play hard and finish," linebacker Michael Clay said. "And we played fast and we played hard and we finished definitely (against Arizona), pitching a shutout against a team that had gained 600-plus yards in almost every game." Clay finished with a personal-best 13 tackles to earn conference defensive player of the week honors. Halliday said he has experience against Oregon's scheme by simulating it in practice with the scout team last season. "I have an idea of what they are going to do but an idea of what they are going to do is a lot different than being on that field and dealing with that speed," Halliday said. Oregon also has a new quarterback from last season in freshman Marcus Mariota, who wasn't sacked last week for the first time and has thrown 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. This is the 10th time the Cougars will be hosting a game at the home of the Seattle Seahawks. They are 5-4 in those contests, but may not be too thrilled about making the trek across Washington. "I think it's exciting for the west side of the state, we got a lot of Cougars over there, but it's not a true home game," Halliday said. "It's kind of frustrating that we don't get to play the game in Martin Stadium."
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