Two things that last occurred for Oregon football in 2014:
1. The Ducks won the Pac-12 Conference championship.
2. The Ducks beat Washington State.
While Oregon's four-game losing streak against Washington State may not be directly responsible for the Ducks' conference title drought, after winning four in six seasons previously, the series does speak to the balance of power in the Pac-12.
The Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) have a commanding lead in the North after beating rival Washington last week in an emotional, comeback contest. Every team in the division now, save Oregon State, has three conference losses, with Oregon accounting for one of them against each of Cal, Stanford, and Washington.
A win Saturday over Washington State (4-3, 1-3) all but assures the Ducks will head back to Levi's Stadium for the first time since 2014, and positions them for a final-month push to the College Football Playoff. But sandwiched between marquee matchups with the Huskies and South-leading USC, the Cougars are well-positioned to spring a trap for its fifth straight in the series.
Washington State at Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oregon -14
When Washington State Has the Ball
Before Week 8, Oregon limited five opponents to a combined two touchdowns over 64 possessions. Washington came out in the rivalry game with a masterful game plan, attacking the outstanding Ducks defense early with an aggressive passing attack.
It's no secret Washington State will come out slinging the ball. Quarterback Anthony Gordon leads the nation with 2,981 yards and 29 touchdowns. Those are eye-popping numbers even in the Cougars' pass-happy system.
As vital to Washington State's approach as a prolific passer is a stout offensive line. Washington State has that again in 2019, allowing just seven sacks on the season. Washington's offensive line kept the Ducks out of the backfield a week ago, save for a single Popo Aumavae sack. Jacob Eason went 23-of-30 without an interception from the clean pocket.
Expect Washington State to similarly attack the Ducks, particularly with early deep passes. The risk to this strategy, as Colorado experienced the week prior, comes from takeaways. The Ducks' 12 interceptions are tops in the Pac-12.
When Oregon Has the Ball
An Oregon offense that can be best described as methodical looked rattled for much of the first half a week ago, but responded to the punch it took with a brilliant second half. Quarterback Justin Herbert showed why he's been lauded for much of his career, coming through with four touchdown passes and leading the comeback effort.
Oregon's balanced approach with Herbert passing and a multifaceted rushing look, which should include CJ Verdell (listed as probable this week), should have no trouble putting up points. Washington State's in its second game since the surprising exit of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. Prior to last week's rout of Colorado, the Cougars surrendered 38 points twice and 67 in three losses.
Limiting Colorado to 10 points has to be seen as a win under the new defensive staff, but the Buffaloes offense began a steady implosion the week prior at Oregon. The Ducks pose the Cougars a much more telling test. Physicality and ball control are key to wearing down a Washington State defense built around speed but lacking size.
Washington State's style of play has given Oregon fits for much of Mike Leach's tenure on the Palouse. Most of those were much differently built Oregon teams than this physically imposing bunch Mario Cristobal has now. With four straight losses, including a deflating one in Pullman one week after beating Washington last year, focus shouldn't be an issue for the Ducks.
Slowing Washington State's offense early will be crucial to Oregon dictating the tone early. The Ducks can score on Washington State's defense, but a track meet isn't in Oregon's best interest.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Washington State 24
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.