COUGAR FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK

HANNAM (76) and JACOBSON

SO WHAT DO you get when you match up the No. 1 offense in the nation against the almost-worst (No. 118-ranked) defense in the nation? Oddsmakers say the answer is a 36-point margin of victory for Oregon. The better answer is this: A Cougar offense that needs to devour massive chunks of clock time if this one is going to be anywhere near respectable.

Given the badinage of the Cougar D, the excellence of the Oregon O, and Chip Kelly's affinity for running up scores, it's not beyond the realm to think the Ducks could put 100 points on the board if the WSU offense doesn't move the chains with consistency.

Just look at the numbers if you have doubts.

Oregon's offense is the most productive in these United States, averaging 569.2 yards and 56.8 points per game. The WSU defense surrenders an average of 509.8 yards and 42.8 points per game.

It's a recipe for calamity.

Unless Jeff Tuel and the offense can work the clock.

And here again, the stats don't suggest a positive outcome for the Cougs because a ball-control offense typically hinges on a stellar ground attack -- something the Cougars don't have. Indeed, WSU is one of the worst rushing teams in the nation, averaging just 109 ground hashes per game. In fact, WSU hasn't eclipsed 100 yards rushing in a game since Week 2 against Montana State. Oregon's defense isn't a world beater in stopping the run, but it is decent -- at No. 48 in the country, surrendering an average of 133 yards per game.

The Cougs will no doubt try to establish the run game to an extent this Saturday, but common sense says the short passing game is going to be the crimson route to ball control. And here, the outlook is brighter because there's no escaping the fact the Cougars' aerial attack is starting to click. Fueled by stellar work at UCLA last week, WSU is ranked No. 31 in the nation in passing offense (253 yards per game).

WHETHER RUNNING OR PASSING, the work of the hosses up front is critical and one trend that is working in the Cougars' favor is health. The starters and their chief understudies are standing tall this season, unlike the previous two years. Left tackle David Gonzales, right tackle Micah Hannam, right guard B.J. Guerra and center Zack Williams have started every game, and left guard Wade Jacobson has started four of five. That's some serious gel factor right there.

By the way, presuming he gets the start against Oregon, Hannam will break an old record. With 42 consecutive career starts, he currently is tied with legendary Mike Utley for most ever by a WSU offensive lineman. Utley, a consensus All-American, put together his streak between 1985-88.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Kickoff on Saturday is at 2 pm at Martin Stadium. There will be no live TV coverage. The game is scheduled to be shown tape delay on Comcast SportsNet NW at 6:30 p.m. The Ducks are 5-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Cougars are 1-4.

  • Oregon's tight end and special teams coach is 1983 Washington State graduate Tom Osborne. He served as a student coach for the Cougars in 1981-82 and then was a graduate assistant at WSU from 1983-85.

  • WSU freshman receiver Marquess Wilson has six catches this season of 40 yards or more. That's more than any Cougar receiver had all of last year.

  • Junior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis is on track for his second straight tackling crown. Last season he led the Cougars with 84 stops and this season he has a team-leading 32. Safety Tyree Toomer is close behind at 30. Tied for third, with 22, are safety Chima Nwachukwu and end Travis Long.

  • Senior punter Reid Forrest booted three balls of 50 yards or more against UCLA last weekend, giving him ten 50-or-more-yarders this season. His career punting average of 42.25 yards ranks No. 3 on the all-time WSU list behind Gavin Hedrick (43.4) and Kyle Basler (42.3). Hedrick, who played for the Cougs from 1974-77, was so good that he was on the cover the WSU media guide in 1976. And in the summer before his senior season, WSU put together a publicity stunt built around a simple question: Could thunder-footed Gavin Hedrick punt a ball over the Spokane Coliseum? Reporters and camera crews gathered round one sunny August day to find out. We're not going to tell you the answer, having confidence some of the old-timers on the message board might well have some insight.

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