SEATTLE — Since Chip Kelly took over as the University of Oregon’s head football coach prior to the 2009 season, the Ducks have lost exactly six games — once to USC, once to LSU, once to Auburn, once to Ohio State, once to Stanford and once, in Kelly’s debut as coach, to Boise State.
And a Washington State assistant coach had a pretty good view of that last one.
WSU linebackers coach Jeff Choate, who spent the past six seasons coaching special teams at Boise State, said there wasn’t anything all that special about BSU’s defensive packages in its 19-8 win that night.
“I think we called basically the same defense about 45 times in that game. There was 49 snaps,” Choate said. “It wasn’t anything that was revolutionary in terms of a blitz package or anything like that.”
And then: “We’ve just got to line up and play.”
There it is. As WSU (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) prepares to face No. 2 Oregon (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) at 7:30 tonight in its annual “home” game at CenturyLink Field, the Cougars aren’t talking about the Ducks’ vaunted offense, or their improved defense, or the multiple players WSU will have to contain to have a chance as a 30.5-point underdog.
No, the Cougars are simply worried about lining up, doing it quickly and doing it right, and focusing on their own execution.
That goes for WSU’s offense, too, though Oregon feasts on teams that can’t match its furious offensive pace. So the Cougars’ defense has to play sound and smart, two traits it lacked during a fourth-quarter collapse against Colorado last week.
“They really prey on guys that don’t get lined up quickly enough,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “You know, guys that are out of position. They’ve got a handful of plays that they run really well and they do it over and over. And they do it at a really high speed. And it’s like, ‘All right, you can’t line up and make the transition to execute your defense as fast as we can, because we do it every day, we do it all the time and we do it really fast, so here we go.’”
It’s why the Ducks have a tendency to wear opponents down throughout the course of a game. Case in point: Oregon led then-No. 22-ranked Arizona just 13-0 at halftime last week, then scored five touchdowns in the game’s final 22 minutes to win 49-0.
Two of those scores were interceptions returned for touchdowns.
“Oregon’s very sound defensively,” WSU quarterback Connor Halliday said. “They give you a bunch of different looks between their 30 and 40 fronts with their d-linemen where they’re moving linebackers at the snap of the ball. Their safeties are really active. Their whole defense is fast and gives you a bunch of things you have to prepare for.”
The preparation hasn’t been WSU’s problem. Leach continues to issue negative evaluations of his team’s mental state in postgame press conferences, saying that if the Cougars could execute for 60 minutes on Saturdays the way they do during Tuesday’s practices, they’d be just fine.
There is also less pressure on WSU this week, with the Ducks forecasted as a heavy favorite. WSU has played the role of the underdog well enough against Oregon the past two years, keeping things interesting into the second halves of 43-23 and 43-28 losses.
WSU linebacker Travis Long, who is tied for the lead in the nation with his 6.5 sacks, said discipline and aggressiveness are the keys to containing the Ducks.
“Just be where you’re supposed to be and (don’t) hesitate,” he said. “You hesitate against these guys, they’ll bust a big play on you.”