- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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New week. New coach. New prep work for the Oregon defense.
For the second week in a row, the Ducks will face another of the new head coaches in the Pac-12. Last week it was Arizona and Rich Rodriguez’s up-tempo spread attack. The game was supposed to generate video game points. And it did, at least for the Ducks. Oregon’s defense blanked the Wildcats to record its first shutout against a Pac-12 team since 2003.
This week, it’s a new challenge, against another new coach, against another innovative offense. Washington State and new head coach Mike Leach bring the Air Raid to Seattle to meet the No. 2 Ducks.
And with another completely different offense to prepare for, there are sure to be some unique challenges.
“We always like to say that each week is a season,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly. “Right or wrong, what we did last Saturday, we have to flush that and solely focus on the next opponent which is drastically different in terms of what Mike Leach is doing compared to what Coach Rodriguez is doing down in Arizona. You hope your players understand that. It’s a diverse league, so to speak, and there’s not a lot of carryover in certain situations. If it is, usually it’s just luck of the draw -- somebody may be like somebody else -- but you don’t see them two weeks in a row. It is a different game plan for us defensively. It’s a challenge, but I think our guys are up to it.”
Washington State, meanwhile, is also looking for people to step up. In the wake of their last-minute loss to Colorado, the Cougars find themselves scrambling for leadership and confidence.
“We need to be a team that embraces the competition of tight, tough situations,” Leach said. “We’re making progress that way. We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress. We need to do things together. We’re kind of individualistic. It needs to be more synchronized, everybody together...
“We need to reach members of the team where it’s not terribly painful [to lose]. There are the guys where it’s very painful to lose or fall short that take a lot of pride in their play. And then there are those that have the, that’s-how-the-cookie-crumbles mentality. That’s crazy. There is too much invested in this.”
The Ducks defense was impressive last week in blanking the Wildcats. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu nabbed two picks (one he returned for a touchdown) and he broke up three passes. He can expect to be challenged again because the Cougars are -- as Kelly says -- “gonna chuck it.”
The Seattle Game, which is being played at CenturyLink Field, is the first road game of the year for the Ducks, who have jumped out to a 4-0 start. While it’s nice that Oregon fans don’t have to travel to Pullman to face the Cougars, location isn’t much of an issue for Kelly.
“We just get on a plane and go play where they tell us to go play,” he said. “I won’t know until we get there. Geographically it’s closer. When we play away games, I just ask our director of football operations what time the plane is leaving. We don’t think anything else besides that.”
Washington State’s 2-2 start has come with mixed results; explosive at times, lethargic at others. It’s likely that Connor Halliday will start again for the Cougars at quarterback. And he said against a volatile Oregon defense, someone has to take the lead.
“I was the backup quarterback going into the game last year so I watched a bunch of film on them,” Halliday said. “I have an idea of what they are going to do. But an idea of what they are going to do is a lot different than being on the field and dealing with that speed …
“I think this team is desperate for leaders and I think I’ve stepped up in that category the last couple of weeks and I think that will continue to grow. This offense is dying for someone to lead them. There’s nobody leading the offense right now. Someone needs to step up.”
2dChantel Jennings and David Lombardi