- Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer
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With No. 9 UCLA and No. 13 Stanford looming, second-ranked Oregon first must turn its attention to Washington State.
While much-improved, the Cougars don't figure to be much of a roadblock for a Ducks team that has yet to win by less than three touchdowns. Perhaps more than anything, the game will test against complacency.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich doesn't seem worried.
"The day we stop learning is the day we stop getting better and growing and that day will never come," he said matter-of-factly. "You're constantly hammering fundamentals and basics and all those things and each week the challenges is different. The structure of the defense is different, the personal is a little bit different.
"There's always things from that standpoint that are new and different. We're always trying to get better."
This week's challenge is preparing for Mike Leach's Air Raid offense that has the Cougars No. 8 in the country in passing yards and two wins away from bowl eligibility. Schematically similar to what the Ducks would have seen from Cal if not for monsoon-like weather, WSU will force the issue through the air and on fourth down. The Cougars lead the conference in pass attempts (381) and fourth-down conversions (10 of 16).
Leach was realistic in his expectations going in.
"Just continue to focus on being the best team we can be," he said. "Do it over and over and put together positive practices. Oregon's got a lot of talent [and] that sort of thing, but we've got to just focus on ourselves and go out and be as sharp and precise as we can be and do it for a consistent period of time."
WSU hasn't beaten Oregon since 2006, when the Ducks were ranked No. 16. The Cougars' last win at Autzen Stadium came three years earlier when Oregon was ranked No. 10.
Whether the Ducks see the return of junior running back De'Anthony Thomas remains to be seen. Thomas injured his right ankle on the opening kickoff three weeks ago against Cal and did not play against Colorado or Washington. He was limited in practice Wednesday and said he expects to make a decision on Friday.
Thomas has a theory about his time away that could spell bad news for the rest of the teams Oregon plays.
"I get better when I rest," he said. "I feel like this rest is a good rest and when I come back I feel like I'll be stronger and faster."
In three games before his injury, Thomas carried 42 times for 338 yards and six touchdown.
With Thomas sidelined, Oregon has averaged 292.6 yards rushing a game and remains the No. 3 rushing team in the country behind Army and New Mexico. Only Wisconsin (7.1) averages more yards a carry than the Ducks (6.8).