Ducks to act as first road-test for No. 11 Washington State
Heading into the half-way mark of the season, 11th-ranked Washington State hits the road for the first time for Saturday’s game against the Oregon Ducks.
Due to fluky scheduling, the Cougars played their first five games at home in Pullman. Coach Mike Leach was asked this week whether it’s weird to be leaving Martin Stadium for the first time in October.
“Yeah a little bit, I think everybody’s kind of anxious for it at this point, you know, and looking forward to it,” Leach said. “This is a funny conference, teams on the road play well.”
The Cougars (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) are coming off a statement-making 30-27 victory over then-No. 5 USC last Friday. Washington State has opened the season 5-0 for the first time since 2001 and the team is enjoying its highest ranking since the end of the 2003 season.
Oregon (4-1, 1-1) is also coming off a win, but it was costly. The Ducks lost starting quarterback Justin Herbert in the first quarter with a broken collarbone in a victory over California.
Backup quarterback Taylor Alie left the game against Cal in the fourth quarter, paving the way for true freshman Braxton Burmeister to make his first appearance in a game. They combined for 90 total yards passing, with the Ducks turning to their running game.
Alie and Burmeister practiced this week. Coach Willie Taggart was confident in both quarterbacks.
“We’re not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. Washington State, or anyone else, is not going to feel sorry for us. Next guy up and go practice. Make sure we’re ready to play,” Taggart said.
FALK STOCK: Washington State quarterback Luke Falk’s profile was raised — again — against USC, when he threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns. With the Heisman buzz growing louder, the senior has thrown for 16 TDs with just two interceptions this season. He’s ranked fifth nationally with 1,178 passing yards, an average of 343.6 per game (sixth nationally).
AUTZEN SHADE? Leach acknowledged that Autzen Stadium in Eugene is the loudest stadium in the Pac-12, but then went reeled off a long list of stadiums that are louder .
“Oklahoma’s louder, A&M’s louder, Texas is on the bubble, Nebraska was definitely louder. ... LSU’s is louder. I never went to Alabama. We beat Alabama, but it was at Kentucky,” he said. “Depending or not whether you add the cowbells, Mississippi State’s comparable, Georgia’s louder, Florida’s louder. Definitely that one end zone of South Carolina’s louder. Tennessee’s louder.”
“Little Rock Arkansas, that’s the loudest place I ever played. Entirely concrete structure. It’s as if you held a football game in the neighbor’s basement and all the kids were yelling louder than hell,” he added.
The Cougars have piped in noise at practice to prepare. Leach said the team is always working on its nonverbal communications.
ANOTHER LEACHISM: Washington State fans rushed the field in Pullman following Friday night’s victory, and Leach drew laughs when he described the celebration.
“It’s like Woodstock, except everybody’s got their clothes on,” he said.
In the end, though, the Pac-12 fined Washington State $25,000 for the postgame celebration. The league cited safety in adopting a rule last year on fines for both court and field storming.
WOUNDED DUCKS: In addition to Herbert, the Ducks lost running back Royce Freeman and receiver Dillon Mitchell to injury in the first half against Cal. Both Freeman and Mitchell are starters. Oregon was already missing receiver Charles Nelson because of a right ankle sprain.
Taggart officially listed those players as “day-to-day” earlier in the week, although Freeman practiced on Thursday. Herbert’s broken collarbone will keep him out for “a while,” the coach said.
Junior linebacker Kaulana Apelu fractured his ankle against the Golden Bears and is out for the season.
CHEESEBURGER, CHEESEBURGER: What does going on the road mean to Cougars running back Jamal Morrow? Cheeseburgers.
The team is treated to burgers on its Alaska Airlines flights for road games. “I’m really excited to play an away game,” Morrow said.