No. 25 Washington St hosts No. 12 Oregon in key Pac-12 game
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
No. 25 Washington State hosting No. 12 Oregon has more significance than many may have expected early in the season.
The game will be key in determining which program stays alive in the hunt for the Pac-12 North title, which appeared to be a race between Washington and Stanford when the season began. All four programs now seem to be very much in it at the halfway mark.
As if the intrigue wasn't enough to make Saturday's game one of the top contests in the Pac-12 this week, fans can also expect to see plenty of offensive fireworks in Pullman, which is also hosting ESPN's "College GameDay" for the first time.
Oregon (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) averages 43 points per game behind quarterback Justin Herbert and Washington State (5-1, 2-1) averages 41.8 points behind Gardner Minshew.
Ducks coach Mario Cristobal is impressed with Minshew, a graduate transfer who joined the Cougars in May from East Carolina. Minshew leads the nation with an average of 403 passing yards per game.
"I think his completion percentage is at 68, 69 percent, something of that nature," Cristobal said. "He's going to have a lot of time to throw the ball so you got to stay relentless to him."
Here are other things to know when Oregon visits Washington State, which has won the last three against the Ducks:
STEADY HERBERT: While Minshew has made a somewhat unexpected splash in his first season, Herbert is doing just what was expected of the steady junior. Herbert has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 21 games. Overall, he's thrown for 1,613 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, second to Minshew in the Pac-12, but he's amazingly accurate and ranks seventh nationally for passing efficiency (171.2). Against ranked teams, he's completing 70.8 percent for 1,509 yards and 11 TDs over the course of his Ducks career.
RESTED COUGARS: The Cougars were off last week and haven't played since a 56-37 win at Oregon State on Oct. 6, though maybe they would have preferred to keep playing. Washington State is just 1-5 coming out of the bye week under coach Mike Leach. The Cougars coach said his team worked this week to stay sharp on fundamentals.
WELL-GROUNDED DUCK: Freshman CJ Verdell was named the Pac-12's Player of the Week on offense after rushing for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Oregon's 30-27 overtime win over Washington last weekend. Verdell scored the game-winner on a 6-yard dash. He's the first Oregon freshman to run for at least 100 yards in his first three conference games. He's got four 100-yard games overall this season.
GREETINGS TO GAMEDAY: ESPN's "College GameDay" is coming to Washington State for the first time and it could be unlike any setting ever seen for college football's version of Woodstock. Enthusiasm is high in Pullman, with tens of thousands of fans expected to pour into the town of 30,000 on Saturday. "I think it's overdue," Leach said. "As a team, it's kind of business as usual, but I think it's a really good opportunity for our fans and a good showcase for our university and our team." Leach has fond memories of GameDay. Ten years ago, during the broadcast's first visit to Texas Tech during Leach's stint as head coach in Lubbock, the Red Raiders upset No. 1 Texas 39-33.
WINNING STREAK: Washington State has not lost at home since 2016, the longest streak since the Cougars won 19 straight home games from 1928-33. Leach is also racking up some good numbers. He has 43 wins at Washington State and a victory Saturday would tie him with Jim Walden for third in program history.
FASHION STATEMENT?: While Ol' Crimson will be flying high on game day, Washington State is leaving its signature version of red out of its on-field look on Saturday, going with smooth dark gray or "anthracite" uniforms from head to toe. Oregon, meanwhile, is going with a clean all-white look.
FUN FACT: The Ducks have scored at least 30 points in each of their first six games. Alabama's the only other FBS team to do the same.
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Updated October 20, 2018