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Washington St.-Oregon Preview

Sep 29, 2009 - 10:45 PM By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO STATS Writer

Washington State (1-3) at No. 17 Oregon (3-1), 9:15 p.m. EDT

Consecutive wins over ranked teams, one of them an overpowering performance against a Pac-10 rival, vaulted Oregon back into the Top 25. A matchup with Washington State might help the Ducks stay there for longer this time.

The Ducks look to extend their home winning streak to seven when they meet the Cougars on Saturday night.

No. 16 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) came into the season ranked 16th, but fell out of the poll following a 19-8 opening loss to then-No. 14 Boise State on Sept. 3. That was coupled with the season-ending suspension of running back LeGarrette Blount, who punched Broncos defensive end Byron Hout in the face as Boise State celebrated.

The Ducks, though, responded by winning three in a row and turned in a stunning victory last Saturday, beating then-No. 6 California 42-3. That followed a victory over then-No. 18 Utah 31-24 the week before that snapped the Utes' 16-game winning streak.

"We are fired up and want to keep going," defensive end Will Tukuafu told the team's official Web site after last Saturday's win. "We are excited to get back to practice on Monday. Everyone was saying that in the locker room after this win.

"Never giving up was a key to success after the loss at Boise. We have a great talent on both sides of the field and they make the things go really smooth right now."

That was definitely the case on offense, as Jeremiah Masoli completed 21 of 25 passes for 253 yards and a career high-tying three touchdowns. The junior had been criticized for poor play during the first three games, when he completed 45.3 of his passes for 379 yards and two interceptions.

The low point came against Utah, when he was 4 of 16 for 95 yards and an INT.

"There's always critics - and it always falls on the quarterback," Masoli said. "You try not to think about it, because nobody on the outside really has anything to do with it.

"On offense the sky's the limit for us. "We're the only ones who can hurt us. These last couple of weeks we've been in a funk, but today we moved past that."

Ed Dickson emerged as Masoli's top target against the Golden Bears, catching a career-high 11 passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns to earn conference player of the week honors.

Dickson had four receptions for 58 yards over the previous three games.

The Ducks have been equally effective on defense lately, and have forced 10 turnovers on the season after adding two fumble recoveries last week. Oregon held the high-powered Cal offense to 207 yards and 77 on the ground. Bears Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best, who came in averaging 137.3 rushing yards per game, had 55.

Oregon, however, learned Tuesday that it will be without standout cornerback Walter Thurmond for the remainder of the season due to a right knee injury suffered on the opening kickoff against Cal. He was off to a strong start this season, returning an interception for a touchdown in a 38-36 win over Purdue on Sept. 12 and running back a punt for a score the following week.

Thurmond's five career TDs are the most for a non-offensive player in school history.

Oregon will try to overcome that key loss when it goes for its fifth win in six games against Washington State (1-3, 0-2). The Ducks pounded the Cougars in the last two matchups, winning 63-14 at Pullman on Sept. 27, 2008, and 53-7 at Autzen Stadium on Oct. 13, 2007.

The Cougars, losers of 15 of 16 against ranked foes, are coming off a 27-6 road defeat to then-No. 12 Southern California last Saturday.

Washington State has struggled offensively, averaging 314.3 yards and committing 13 turnovers - six of them interceptions.

That prompted coach Paul Wulff to name freshman Jeff Tuel the starting quarterback this week after poor performances from senior Kevin Lopina and sophomore Marshall Lobbestael.

Tuel will become the first freshman to start at quarterback for Washington State since Drew Bledsoe in 1990. He earned the start with a strong performance after replacing Lobbestael against USC, going 14 of 22 for 130 yards and one interception. He ran nine times for 34 yards and was sacked four times.

The Cougars are averaging 17.0 points per game, 109th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.