Washington St.-Oregon Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- When asked Tuesday if starting quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman Trophy hopeful LaMichael James were going to return this week from injury, Oregon coach Chip Kelly said he didn't want to discuss it.
He had plenty to say about his team's depth.
The seventh-ranked Ducks will look to extend their home winning streak to 21 on Saturday when they face a Washington State team trying to avoid a fourth straight defeat.
Out since suffering a knee injury in a 41-27 over then-No. 18 Arizona State on Oct. 15, Thomas did not play last Saturday at Colorado but Oregon (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) didn't need him, rolling to a 45-2 victory - its sixth straight.
Redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and ran for 69 yards in his first start.
With James missing his second straight game with a dislocated elbow, Kenjon Barner finished with 115 yards and two rushing scores. He has piled up 286 yards and three TDs since James went down.
"I've always said that Kenjon could start at a lot of schools in this country - he's one of the more talented running backs in the nation," Kelly said of the junior, who suffered a concussion on a kickoff return and had to be taken to the hospital in the Ducks' 43-23 victory at Washington State on Oct. 9, 2010. "We're fortunate to have both him and LaMichael."
The Ducks, who have the sixth-ranked offense in the FBS (537.3 total yards per game) and average 48.1 points - fourth in the nation - are fortunate to have one of the deepest teams in the country, not slowed at all by injuries to two top offensive contributors.
"We play at a certain tempo and pace on both sides of the ball that warrant us to play a lot of guys," Kelly said. "So if we can get a lot of guys that can get up to speed then they'll have the ability to play and we'll play them."
It's uncertain whether Thomas, who suffered a shoulder injury in last season's game at Washington State, or James will be able to play, but Cougars coach Paul Wulff knows that either way his struggling team will have little room for error in Eugene.
"You've got to be physical - you've got to make plays because they're going to keep coming at you," he said. "As soon as you slip once, they've got enough speed where they're going to make a big play on you."
Washington State (3-4, 1-3) is no stranger to giving up big plays after yielding 88 points in the last two games and giving up a season-high 551 yards in Saturday's 44-21 loss to Oregon State.
The Cougars' are surrendering 30.4 points per game on the season.
Offensively, Washington State will likely need a big effort from senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who will make his first start in three weeks after junior Jeff Tuel did not play the second half of the Oregon State loss due to a left shoulder injury.
Kelly is not overlooking a Cougars team that boasts a trio of talented receivers in sophomore Marquess Wilson (109.0 yards per game) and seniors Isiah Burton and Jared Karstetter. Karstetter who set career highs of 10 receptions and 106 yards in last season's matchup with Oregon.
"They've got three outstanding receivers," Kelly said. "... They're throwing the ball all over the place."
The Cougars will try to put pressure on an Oregon secondary that will be minus junior cornerback Cliff Harris, who was suspended Monday hours after being cited for driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance, and failure to wear a seatbelt.
Harris, who was sacked in the end zone last Saturday while trying to field a punt, was also suspended for the Ducks' season-opening loss to LSU after getting ticketed in June by Oregon State Police for driving 118 mph on a suspended license.
Oregon will likely start Anthony Gildon and Terrence Mitchell at cornerback.
"We're four-deep at corner," Kelly said, "and Cliff hasn't played a whole lot anyway."
Oregon has won four straight versus Washington State and leads the all-time series 43-38-7.
Updated October 25, 2011