Where: Autzen Stadium
The #22 Arizona Wildcats will take on the #3 Oregon Ducks this Saturday in Eugene, Oregon. By the looks of the Las Vegas lines (Ducks by 23 ½ points), Facebook posts and other media, it appears that most the general public and even the Arizona faithful are already marking up Arizona’s first loss of the season before the game has even started.
Sounds eerily familiar to the way Arizona was treated before they played Oklahoma State. That game resulted in a lopsided victory for the Wildcats.
I’m not saying Arizona will win. I’m not even saying there is no potential possibility the Wildcats will get blown out in Autzen Stadium. But in only three games, the Wildcats have already surpassed expectations for this season and are hungry for more.
So, before you mark an “L” down on your Arizona Wildcats football schedule, remember: anything can happen in college football (see Exhibit 1: UL-Monroe defeats #8 Arkansas at Razorback Stadium and almost upsets Auburn the following week). Consider these factors that are in the Wildcats’ favor going into this Saturday’s game:
1. Strength of Schedule
Oklahoma State came off of an 84-0 victory over Savannah State before receiving a rude awakening against Arizona. Likewise, while the Wildcats have already faced two tough challengers (Toledo is a better football team than most people realize) and know what it is like to play in high pressure situations, Oregon has tested their dominant offense three times against nobody. If the Ducks come out feeling at ease, Arizona will make it uncomfortable quickly.
Marcus Mariota is a freshman who has yet to be thrown in a challenging situation where making the right decision is everything. He has thrown 77 times for 624 yards and rushed for 108 yards. Meanwhile, 5th year senior Matt Scott has been thrown in numerous situations and appears to rarely to make the wrong decision. He has thrown 123 times for 995 yards and rushed for 190 yards against tougher opponents. In the read-option offenses that both teams run, the quarterbacks’ experience and decision-making skills are critical. If veteran Scott makes better choices than rookie Mariota, we could be in for a good game.
Neither defense is something to be extremely proud of, but Arizona’s bend-but-don’t-break scheme has eliminated the “big play” and limited its opponents to 18 points per game. The Ducks defense has not been as successful against lesser competition, giving up 24 points per game.
Like Oklahoma State, Oregon relies heavily on the run attack to make their offense run on all cylinders. Two weeks ago, Arizona’s defense was feisty enough to frustrate Oklahoma State’s offense, create impatience and completely throw the Cowboys out of their game plan by the end of the first half. If the Wildcats can contain D’Anthony Thomas (no easy task, the superstar is averaging 17.5 yards a carry right now) just enough to make the Ducks get antsy–forcing freshmen quarterback Mariota to throw the ball more than they would like him to—Arizona will win any battle that takes place in the air.
Oregon’s offense also relies heavily on spreading defenses out and creating one-on-one matchups. The Wildcats 3-3-5 defense is designed for offenses that rely heavily on spreading defenses out and creating one-on-one matchups. Oregon will get its fair share of offensive yardage, but if Arizona tackles as well as it did against Oklahoma State, the Ducks will have to work hard on every possession if they want to find the end zone.
In a game that will be predominantly determined by offensive production, each team’s ability to hold on to the ball will be imperative. After giving up three turnovers to Toledo, Arizona has not coughed up the ball since and appears often to score at will. Oregon, on the other hand, has turned the ball over seven times in three games. If the Ducks hand the ball over to Arizona, the Wildcats will not be as generous as the likes of Arkansas State and Tennessee State.