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5 Things To Watch: WSU

Nov 13, 2020

The Oregon football team gets its first chance this season to play on the road when the Ducks take the field at Washington State on Saturday (4 p.m., FOX).

The Ducks opened the 2020 season with a 35-14 victory over Stanford at home last week. Washington State went on the road and beat Oregon State, 38-28.

The game will be televised by FOX, with Tim Brando on play by play and Spencer Tillman providing analysis.

Some storylines to follow in the game …

1. The Ducks have taken progressive steps under Mario Cristobal to become a formidable road team, and now look to continue that progress in the absence of guys like Justin Herbert and Troy Dye.

Oregon won two road games combined in the years 2016 and 2017, then matched that total with two road wins in Cristobal's first season as head coach, 2018. The Ducks took another step forward in 2019 with three wins on the road, their only road loss coming at Arizona State.

Can they sustain that momentum in 2020? Playing on the road is a different experience around the Pac-12 during the pandemic, with only a few schools allowing a handful of family members to attend. Still, no longer are Herbert and Dye setting the tone, with quarterback Tyler Shough and linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia now looking to provide that leadership, among others.

2. The last time the Ducks played at Washington State was two years ago, and though Oregon beat the Cougs in Autzen Stadium last season, the sting of the loss in Pullman two years ago still lingers.

Coming off an emotional overtime win over Washington at home, Oregon went on the road to the Palouse a week later and came out incredibly flat. The Cougars led 27-0 at halftime, and held on to win 34-20 despite allowing the Ducks to score 20 straight points coming out of halftime.

As noted above, this is a different Oregon team with different leaders. But for those veterans who played in that game, there's a considerable demon to exorcise Saturday.

3. New UO offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's two metrics for success are explosive plays and turnovers, and they provided a mixed back of results for the Ducks in their opening win over Stanford.

Out of 66 total snaps on offense, the Ducks had 10 explosive plays – six runs and four passes. That's a solid ratio, though Moorhead is always looking for more.

Oregon did turn it over twice, however, including once in the red zone. That's a number the Ducks want to clean up, particularly heading into a road game.

4. The UO defense under Andy Avalos, meanwhile, is looking to cause more havoc than it did last week against the Cardinal.

Oregon led the Pac-12 with 41 sacks last season and was second in takeaways with 27. But the Ducks didn't sack a Stanford quarterback last week, and didn't force a turnover.

The Cardinal run a balanced attack, which keeps a defense honest. It'll be no different this week, with Washington State showing a commitment to running the ball last week at Oregon State, out of new coach Nick Rolovich's run-and-shoot offense.

5. As for individual players to watch, here's a couple when Oregon has the ball. For the Ducks, tight end DJ Johnson has another big opportunity Saturday, while a guy to watch on the WSU defense is No. 13, linebacker Jahad Woods.

Johnson made his first appearance for the Ducks on offense last week, after an offseason switch from the defensive line, and provided exactly what Oregon needed. He was the only scholarship tight end to appear in the game and caught five passes, including his first touchdown; walk-on Cooper Shults was the only other tight end to play for Oregon against Stanford, and it sounds like that will be the two-deep again at WSU.

For the Cougs, Woods had 141 tackles last season, ranking fourth in the FBS. He had five tackles last week at OSU and forced a fumble. Another storyline to watch is the status of Max Borghi, one of the top running backs in the Pac-12, who didn't play at OSU