Henley leads Cougars vs No. 15 Oregon to open Pac-12 play

Through his first three games at Washington State, linebacker Daiyan Henley is proving to be one of the most important transfer portal additions in the country.

Much like his team as a whole, Henley gets another big stage to show both he and the Cougars are worthy of even more attention hosting No. 15 Oregon on Saturday.

Washington State (3-0) already stole the show once this season with its surprising upset victory at Wisconsin. Knocking off the Ducks would certainly vault the Cougars into the AP Top 25 and into the discussion about Pac-12 contenders.

“I think we’re in a great place,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “They have worked their tails off to get here and they’ve earned it. We’re confident in what we need to do.”

Henley, a transfer from Nevada, has been the anchor on a defense that’s performed beyond expectations while the Cougars’ offense has been slow to get going. Henley had a huge day in Washington State’s 38-7 victory over Colorado State last week, registering 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles, and was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week.

Henley ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 30 tackles and leads the conference in both tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (four). The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder from Los Angeles has been especially sharp on blitzes.

“He gained 25 pounds since he’s been here, and his speed and athleticism is matching what we all thought it could be,” Dickert said. “His blitzing ability is off the charts.”

Henley will be challenged Saturday by Oregon’s veteran offensive line and standout quarterback Bo Nix.

Oregon coach Dan Lanning said the Ducks are aware of Henley.

“Athletic ability, motor, versatility,” Lanning said. “They use him in a lot of unique ways.”

The Ducks (2-1) routed BYU at home last weekend, an impressive bounce back after the season-opening blowout loss to Georgia. Oregon used a balanced attack to score on each of its first-half possessions. Nix completed 13 of 18 passes for 222 yards and Oregon’s ground game totaled 234 yards on 43 carries.

Lanning was not satisfied.

“We haven’t played a four-quarter game in all phases,” Lanning said. “There are a lot of things we can get better at.”

Dickert seemed to agree with Lanning’s assessment that the Ducks are still evolving.

“I wouldn’t judge Oregon on that Georgia game,” Dickert said. “Georgia is on another planet. (The Ducks) have improved every week.”

WINNING WARD

Washington State transfer quarterback Cameron Ward has improved in each game. He threw a season-high four touchdown passes in the blowout win over Colorado State. Ward, who played last year at FCS Incarnate Word, is tied for second in the Pac-12 with eight touchdown passes. His favorite target is Donovan Ollie, second in the league with 19 receptions.

THE SERIES

Oregon has won the past three meetings to lead the all-time series 50-42-7. The Cougars’ last win in the series was in 2018, a 34-20 victory in Pullman.

NO SACKS

The Ducks’ veteran offensive line hasn’t given up a sack this season. Only four teams in the nation have yet to allow a sack. “Our goal is to win, not on how many sacks we give up in a game,” Lanning said.

NIX SHINES

After struggling against Georgia, Nix has found his groove. In his last two games, the former Auburn starter completed 80% of his passes for 499 yards and 10 touchdowns with no turnovers. Nix is also capable of making plays with his legs and rushed for three touchdowns versus BYU. “He keeps the play alive and runs very effectively,” Dickert said. “His experience, you can’t replicate it. They did a good job in the portal of upgrading that position. He really has command of the offense.”

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