PULLMAN – John Fullington knows what people are saying about his Washington State football team. He doesn’t like it, but the critics are hard to ignore.
Fullington says he’d pay more attention, but he’s too busy preparing to help WSU shock second-ranked Oregon on Saturday in Seattle.
“We’ve just got to put a full game together – one full game – and we can definitely beat Oregon,” said Fullington, a junior offensive guard from North Mason High School.
Fullington realizes few people agree with him. Oregon is a 29-point favorite in WSU’s annual Seattle “home” game at CenturyLink Field (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).
“We do have a legitimate chance,” Fullington said. “We just have to believe.”
Most WSU students and alums live in Western Washington, so the Seattle game provides valuable exposure for the football program and the school as a whole. CenturyLink has twice the capacity of WSU’s Martin Stadium, and a crowd of 60,000 or more could be on hand Saturday.
That doesn’t mean WSU players have to like it.
“I wish the game was here,” said Xavier Cooper, a defensive lineman from Wilson High School. “We deserve to have the game here.”
“I just wish all of our home games were here,” QB Connor Halliday said. “I don’t see why we need to go somewhere else to play home games.”
Oregon fans will make up a sizeable portion of Saturday’s crowd, since Seattle is a 5-hour drive north of Eugene on Interstate 5. Oregon’s Kenjon Barner and Colt Lyerla said they embrace the opportunity to play at an NFL stadium like CenturyLink.
“It’s very exciting,” Barner said.
Oregon running back-wide receiver-kick returner De’Anthony Thomas, who graced Sports Illustrated’s cover last week, has scored seven touchdowns in somewhat limited playing time in the unbeaten Ducks’ four blowout wins (all at home).
“He makes people look dumb,” Cooper said. “Guys like that, you’ve just got to hit him. Hit him in the mouth.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete.”
WSU linebacker Travis Long is tied for the national lead in quarterback sacks with 61/2. Florida State’s Bjoern Werner shares the lead.
“Travis, he’s been ballin’ out, doing some crazy things,” Cooper said.
Long, a starting defensive end his first three years at WSU, said he “was a little nervous at first” about the position change. Now?
“I seem to like it,” he said.
The Cougars are tied for seventh in the nation with 14 sacks.
Jeff Tuel continues to nurse a knee injury, so Halliday appears set to start for the third straight week.
“I think this team is desperate for leaders,” Halliday said. “I think I’ve stepped up in that category the past couple weeks, and I think that’ll just continue to grow.”
Dan Speltz, who started at offensive guard or tackle in the first two games, practiced Sunday for the first time in two weeks. Starting tackle Wade Jacobson went through conditioning drills but did not practice. Jacobson left Saturday’s game with a possible neck or shoulder injury.
The Pacific-12 Conference announced WSU’s Oct. 6 game at Oregon State will be on the Pac-12 Networks at 3 p.m. … WSU coach Mike Leach, always been a daring play-caller on fourth down, has had it backfire on him the past two games. He offered no apologies, saying plays were there to be made. … WSU socials are scheduled all week around Puget Sound. For details, go to www.wsucougars.com.
Cougars’ Opponent this week
NO. 2 OREGON (4-0 OVERALL, 1-0 PAC-12)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Centurylink field, seattle
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 710-AM, 104.3-FM
Coach: Chip Kelly (38-6, fourth year)
Last season: Ducks were 12-2 overall, 8-1 in the Pac-12
Against the Cougars: Oregon leads the series, 43-39-7. The Ducks won last year, 43-28, in Eugene.
state connections: The Ducks have two players from Washington high schools: senior Nick Cody, a starting offensive right guard from Hockinson; and senior Nick Morrison, a reserve defensive lineman from Cascade of Everett.
Did you know: Oregon has won five straight games against WSU by an average score of 51-16.
Scouting report: The Ducks, bidding for a fourth straight conference championship, returned 52 lettermen. Running back-wide receiver-kick returner De’Anthony Thomas is one of the nation’s fastest and most electrifying players, and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota is yet another dual-threat quarterback at Oregon. The Ducks rank fourth in the nation in scoring (52.8 points per game) and fifth in total offense (571.0 yards). The Cougars stand 80th in points allowed (28.0) and 103rd in total yards allowed (473.0), so … you do the math. Oregon’s explosive offense draws most of the spotlight, but the defense just shut out an Arizona team that had been averaging 46 points and 605 yards per game.
Marcus Mariota 11278 69.6 93410 2
Kenjon Barner 76 410 5.4 6
De’Anthony Thomas 1316512.73
Jackson Rice 1438.7 0
Field goalsAtt Made Long
Rob Beard 4 2 41
Sept. 1 d. Arkansas St., 57-34
Sept. 15d. Tenn. Tech, 63-14
SaturdayWSU in Seattle
Oct. 18at Arizona State
Nov. 3at USC
Sept. 8 d. Fresno St., 42-25
Sept. 22d. Arizona, 49-0
Nov. 10at California
Nov. 24 Oregon State
Howie Stalwick, contributing writer