SEATTLE -- For all the mistakes second-ranked Oregon made a week ago at home almost giving points away, the result was still an impressive shutout by the Ducks.
While the flash of Oregon's offense continues to get attention -- and rightfully so -- the Ducks defense is now also proving headline worthy.
The test for Oregon (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) was familiar last week, trying to slow down the spread offense of Arizona, which has similarities to the Ducks' own system. Saturday night's challenge is different and will put pressure on the Ducks secondary: facing Mike Leach and Washington State's pass-happy offense.
The Ducks should have no problem scoring on a struggling Cougars defense that collapsed in the fourth quarter last week versus Colorado. But this will be the first true test of an Oregon pass defense that so far is giving up only 210 yards per game through the air.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us," Oregon cornerback Terrence Mitchell said. "(WSU receiver Marquess Wilson) is an NFL prospect and a lot of us have those kind of dreams so it's a great opportunity to go show what we can do.”
While it's technically a home game for the Cougars (2-2, 0-1), playing in Seattle also makes it easier for Ducks fans to make the trip north. Washington State has played a game at the home of the Seattle Seahawks every year -- minus 2004 -- since 2002 as a nod to its massive alumni base in the Puget Sound region.
But last year, athletic director Bill Moos changed the format for the game and rather than playing a non-conference foe in Seattle, decided that for the foreseeable future whichever Oregon school the Cougars are scheduled to host would be the opponent in the NFL stadium.
Last year's game against Oregon State drew just under 50,000. This year, nearly 60,000 tickets have already been sold. And while the Cougars are trying to turn the town crimson for the night, there's bound to be plenty of highlighter yellow in the crowd, too.
"It'll be different. We're not playing in Pullman, so it's going to be a totally different environment and both teams are going to be excited," Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan said.
The Ducks are thrilled with the idea of getting to play in an NFL stadium, maybe because it means not having to make the trip to the smallest town in the Pac-12.
The Cougars were a little less enthusiastic about having to give up a home game in Pullman with presumptive starting quarterback Connor Halliday and defensive lineman Xavier Cooper both saying this week they would rather play in Martin Stadium even if that meant a smaller crowd.
"I think it's exciting for the west side of the state," Halliday said. "We've got a lot of Cougars over there. But it's not a true home game. It's kind of frustrating that we don't get to play the game in Martin Stadium. It's kind of a 50-50 deal. I just wish all of our home games were here. I don't see why we need to go somewhere else to play a home game. That's my opinion.”
Oregon's defense was outstanding in last week's 49-0 shutout of Arizona despite being put in difficult situations almost from the beginning. The Ducks held Arizona scoreless despite six Wildcat possessions inside the Oregon 20. They forced four turnovers and returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns. It was Oregon's first conference shutout in nearly a decade.
If there is a concern for Oregon, it's that quarterback Marcus Mariota will be making his first start away from friendly Autzen Stadium and each of the last two years the Ducks have found the Cougars to be a tougher test than expected.
"I think we just take it the same as every other week," Mariota said. "It'll be a little different being away from home, being away from this great place but we're going to take it as another challenge and we should be fine.”
Washington State is trying to recover from an epic collapse at home, letting a 31-14 fourth-quarter lead slip away and losing 35-34 to lowly Colorado when Jordan Webb scored on a quarterback sneak from the 4 in the final seconds.
The collapse was damaging on multiple fronts. The buzz that came with the arrival of Leach in Pullman has slowly eroded during the first month of the season with uninspired performances in wins over Eastern Washington and UNLV, followed by the loss to the Buffaloes.
Additionally, the loss now makes it difficult to find four more plausible victories on the Cougars' schedule, leaving the preseason goal of finally getting back to a bowl game for the first time in nearly a decade in doubt.
And trying to get well against the second-ranked team in the country with a defense showing plenty of leaks doesn't appear to be the best remedy.
"I don't think we need to shock anybody," Cooper said. "We can compete with anybody when we play to our ability.”