Fans of explosive offenses are in for a treat when Washington State hosts Oregon in a key Pac-12 North clash on Saturday. These two teams are setting a high standard on offense for the rest of the league to follow.
The No. 12 Ducks (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) upset then-No. 7 Washington 30-27 in overtime last week and can put themselves in the Pac-12 North driver's seat with another win this week. Oregon is finding success with a balanced attack that ranks second in the league in rushing offense (209.5 ypg), passing offense (273.3 ypg), and total offense (482.8 ypg). The Ducks are scoring a Pac-12-best 43.0 points per game.
It will make facing the No. 25 Cougars so much more interesting. Washington State (5-1, 2-1) is coming off a bye week following a 56-37 win over Oregon State and bringing plenty of firepower to the table. The Cougars currently lead the Pac-12 in total offense (485.5 ypg) and passing offense (413.7 ypg). They rank second in scoring offense (41.8 ppg) behind Oregon.
Washington State has won three straight in the series and is seeking a fourth consecutive victory over Oregon since running off four in a row over the Ducks from 1981-84.
Oregon at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, October 20, 7:30 pm ET
Spread: Washington State -3.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Oregon finish drives against Washington State's secondary?
On the surface, it appears that Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert could be in for his biggest test this season. Washington State leads the Pac-12 in passing defense, allowing just 165.5 yards per game. When you dig a little deeper, the stat is slightly deceptive.
The Cougars haven't faced many teams who are that good at throwing the ball in the first place. Only two of their first six opponents rank among the top 50 FBS teams in passing offense. USC handed Washington State a 39-36 loss in Week 4 after JT Daniels threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes.
If any quarterback has the tools to match that sort of performance, Herbert is it. The Oregon junior is averaging 268.8 passing yards per game. Herbert has totaled 1,613 yards and 17 touchdowns along with just five interceptions, while completing 63.1 percent of his passes this season.
2. Will Washington State feast on Oregon's pass defense?
The Ducks have a knack for feasting on opposing defenses. Stopping quarterbacks from doing the same to their own secondary is a whole different animal.
Oregon ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in passing defense. K.J. Costello plucked the Ducks during a 38-31 overtime loss to Stanford when he threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns while completing 73.1 percent of his passes. Jake Browning threw for 243 yards and a touchdown while completing 60 percent of his passes in Oregon's win over Washington.
Facing Gardner Minshew could create a whole new set of problems. Minshew has turned picking apart defenses into an art form this season. The senior is the nation's leading passer right now with 2,422 yards and 19 touchdowns in six games. He has eclipsed 400 passing yards in four of his last five games. Minshew is completing 68.7 percent of his passes and has thrown just four interceptions so far this season.
His consistently strong performance has allowed Washington State to total more yardage than all six of its opponents this season.
3. Does Washington State break the bye-week jinx?
The Cougars were not able to take the next step from plucky competitor to division champion during the Luke Falk era. Does that narrative change this season? It will only change if Washington State can reverse its recent track record following bye weeks.
Under Mike Leach, the Cougars are just 1-5 coming off a bye week. Last season, they were denied the chance to claim a share of the Pac-12 North crown when they fell to Washington 41-14 following a bye week. The only win after a bye week, ironically, came against Oregon in 2016.
Oregon is a team with the tools necessary to put Washington State's pass defense to the test. But the Ducks will have a tough time slowing down the Cougars' aerial attack. Oregon has struggled when facing good quarterbacks this season. That's bad news going up against a player like Gardner Minshew who has taken to the air raid like a duck to water. Don't be surprised if Washington State seizes the spotlight from the upstart Ducks.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Oregon 34
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.