Washington State remains in the Game of the Week picture largely thanks to what is at stake. Oregon looks like a pretty good team at this juncture, and their lone loss is out of the division. That means that there are major North implications for this contest- if Oregon wins, they’ll have a track to the division championship (it’s a track that goes through Washington, but it’s a track). If Washington State is victorious, they’ll be spoiling for that Apple Cup game PAC 12 fans are likely hoping will pit two undefeated teams.
Falk for Heisman?- The buzz feels a little overblown to this blogger, but Falk’s name has been popping up on these lists here and there. He’s having a very good season, at 6th in the nation in yards per game, and his 16/2 TD to INT ratio is fantastic, but as is typical with Mike Leach offenses, he’s nowhere near as efficient as other elite passers. Falk ranks 50th in yards per pass, and in the PAC 12 he’s behind Jake Browning, Manny Wilkins, Josh Rosen, Tyler Huntley, and Sam Darnold.
The Underappreciated Absence of Herbert- Justin Herbert, meanwhile, was quietly putting together a truly elite quarterback campaign before he snapped his collarbone last week against Cal. He was fifth, not fiftieth, in yards per pass and carried a 9/2 TD/INT ratio. He was also first in the PAC 12 in QBR, an ESPN stat that measures every aspect of a quarterback’s play, from passing to penalties. Herbert hadn’t built up much national buzz, but it’s an enormous loss for the team, who must figure out what to do with much less experienced signal callers.
WSU has a Defense- The Cougars are playing surprisingly well on defense, with a good-enough unit against the run and the 11th best pass defense in the country by yards per attempt. They are also getting a lot of ‘havoc plays’, ranking 7th in the nation in sacks, 16th in tackles for a loss, and 19th in interceptions. It’s a huge part of what has kept them undefeated, particularly with impressive stops in late game situations, stymieing the Trojans late and suffocating Boise State long enough to let the Cougars come roaring back.
The Royce Freeman Show- There is no shortage of elite running backs in this league, and Royce Freeman would like to throw is hat in the ring. He hasn’t churned out yards like some of the other PAC 12 tailbacks, but he has scored- more than anyone else in the entire country. His ability to produce in the absence of his quarterback is going to be crucial, and perhaps the key to the game.
Smooth Sailing Ahead- Oregon’s schedule stays difficult, but the Cougars get an easy stretch after this game. They are highly probably to get to November undefeated if they are able to knock of the Ducks here- although their three November tilts are brutal; against Stanford, Utah, and Washington. The Cougars will be heavily favored against Cal, Colorado, and Arizona before those tough games. A win here will set them on a playoff-caliber trajectory.
GAWP is a little confused about this game, because it does not factor injuries into the equation. It gives the Ducks a 64.6% chance to win. You’ve got two evenly matched teams with a bump for the home team. The absence of Herbert is a crucial storyline here, and the reason Vegas has not released a line.
The crucial injury defies our standard analysis, but it doesn’t look like Oregon is going to tumble as far as many expect. There’s a lot of things to like about this team, with a surprisingly stout defense and one of the better running backs in a conference loaded with excellent rushers. There will be a step down from Herbert’s all-PAC performance, but the guys behind him aren’t slouches and every other piece that is making the Ducks work is still there.
Quarterbacks deserve the lion’s share of the credit for how an offense runs, but they are still given more than they are due. As long as the QB can make the throws, the offensive line and wide receivers are as crucial as a unit to passing game success. For the purposes of the prediction, we’re giving WSU a touchdown to compensate for Herbert’s absence. That takes a game G.A.W.P. projects as about a 6 point Duck victory and makes it very close indeed.
Washington State 44, Oregon 42