First, the obligatory flag-spotting on a Gameday Saturday. Another week, another sighting, this time in Athens. Nice job, and thanks to Coug Will Walker for posting.
So, what is YOUR hope for today? Not your expectation, because I think everyone is pretty much lock-step that Oregon should take care of business today. But stranger things have happened, history is littered with examples so we'll spare the details. But you know what I mean there. Thursday night we saw an example of a team that didn't care about point spreads or media pundits declaring victory for USC. Just like Stanford didn't care last year either, no matter they were a 41-pt underdog. It's happened before, it will happen again.
Anyway, here's what I'm hoping for today (beyond the obvious):
1) CLEAN UP THE TURNOVERS AND PENALTIES
I don't think we can undersell this point in any way, shape or form. This team is not as talented as some of their BCS brethren, and it's been obvious so far. The talent and size/strength line is heavily in Oregon's favor, no secret there. But turnovers are something else. A team that doesn't have the same size, speed and talent level simply cannot play giveaway. 14 turnovers in four games, a minus-9 in turnover ratio, it just doesn't work.
We are excited by how Marshall played last week, and for good reason. Decent completion percentage, four TD drives in the second half, a willingness to go to the tight ends instead of forcing the ball in Brandon Gibson's direction. But the best part? No INT's. He at least shows some sort of comprehension of the offense to the point that he could potentially take care of the football, something that is just so important. We'll see how it goes today, and who knows, maybe he'll play like a nervous frosh trying to be Brett Favre every play. But man, lose the turnover battle, prepare for the worst possible outcome.
The penalties are another issue. The most penalized team in the conference, averaging eight penalties a game. Just like turnovers, penalties can absolutely kill your momentum and/or take away a productive result on the field. Now, the Pac-10 refs are brutal, nobody is arguing that here. But like turnovers, you cannot shoot yourself in the foot repeatedly by your own mistakes and even hope to stand a chance on a weekly basis. Maybe you can get away with it against a middle of the road 1-AA opponent, but against a BCS team like Oregon? Uh, no. Clean up the penalties, and you have a much better shot of at least hanging in there.
2) KEEP THE GAME IN FRONT OF YOU
Oregon's going to come at the WSU D with every wrinkle imaginable. It doesn't really matter who is at QB. The scheme is something else, and when it's clicking, it's about as unstoppable as a college offense that you will find. But one thing to maybe cling to is that when Oregon has played a defense that is disciplined and, for lack of a better word, keeps the game in front of them? They've had some trouble with those kinds of defenses. What I mean by that is don't get sucked in by the slight of hand that is the spread read-option!
It's very simple to sit in my lofty perch and say that. And Chip Kelly is probably the top offensive coordinator around in terms of not only the approach, but all the different things that can happen from just each individual formation. There is so much to think about as a defense that often times you are chasing ghosts out there. UW's EJ Savannah had a famous quote after last year's UW loss to the Ducks, where they gave up over 600 yards and 55 points to them, in that half the time, "we didn't even know who had the football." They were that good.
SO, it's a big task, but I'm HOPING that our defense can stay at home. Tackle well, sure, but don't make the huge mistakes of being out of position or biting too hard on all the fakes and such that they will see today. Oregon absolutely eats young, aggressive, undisciplined defenses for breakfast, so the Coug D is going to have to play better than any other time this year. Let's just say a performance a lot more like we saw vs. Okie State will be encouraging, and a lot LESS like what we saw vs. Baylor or Cal!
3) A COMPETITIVE GAME INTO THE SECOND HALF
This is one thing that I think we all want to see this week, and I sure hope we get it. Down 15-0 at the half vs. Okie State and 25-6 early in the third quarter, so it was an uphill battle in that one. 42-3 vs. Cal at the half that was just a disaster. 28-14 at the half vs. Baylor in a game where they showed some fight early, but Baylor took over before intermission. So for all three games we've played vs. BCS teams, we've been down AT LEAST two TD's at the half, and it's much worse when you factor in Cal. Add it all up, and in three BCS games, we've been outscored 85-17 in the first half! YIKES.
Just think, if this team can get off to a good start, what it could do to the confidence and momentum. I know Martin Stadium is the smallest venue in the conference, but we also know that when the place is full and the fans have a reason to be excited, it can be as loud as any other stadium in the west. It's homecoming, so the crowd should have a little extra juice. Wouldn't you just love to see a game go into the third quarter where they weren't at least a few scores behind?? I know I would.
So there you have it, my top three things to hope for today. Enjoy the game, and GO COUGS!