Arizona Wildcats’ keys to victory: Stand up to challenge, not fake a fallby Javier Morales on Nov. 25, 2010, under Sports
One of the keys is not feigning injuries in order to slow down Oregon’s fast-pace offense. It is the injury suffered by Oregon running back LaMichael James, the NCAA’s leading rusher.
Cal made its all-of-a-sudden cramping too obvious 13 days ago when it barely lost to the Ducks 15-13. It was so obvious the referees will place a keen eye on the UA’s behavior. The Pac-10 office announced recently that it is investigating the claim opponents are faking injuries against the high-octane Oregon offense.
The NCAA must address its ruling on injuries after this season after witnessing Cal’s blatant attempt to slow the game down by faking injuries. Make the player sit the remaining series of downs if he gets injured (fake or not). I don’t agree with penalizing a team by removing a timeout because what if the player is indeed injured? Are we about to make refs medical specialists? Many can’t even ref properly.
To his credit, UA coach Mike Stoops said about faking injuries this week: “I don’t even know what that means.” Don’t think he is faking it, do you?
What Arizona must do Saturday at Autzen Stadium: Provide Oregon’s offense less opportunities to do its damage. That means absolutely no turnovers and sustained offensive drives when it has the ball. The defense should not be on its heels from being on the field a significant amount of time. It has to be more on its toes, the aggressor.
Cal managed to keep the game close by preventing Oregon from gaining a big play. James, who tops the NCAA with 158 yards rushing per game, was limited to a season-low 91 yards against the Golden Bears. His longest run from scrimmage was only 13 yards.
James was hobbled late in the Cal game, leaning on crutches because of a reported lower-leg bruise as the game concluded. Although that game was almost two weeks ago, James’ practice time has been somewhat sporadic. The Eugene Register-Guard reported this week that James spent a “large chunk of (Tuesday’s) workout in the athletic trainers’ office.”
The increased practice time of backup tailback Kenjan Barner should help the Ducks transition to him in the backfield if James is unable to play the entire game. But losing the NCAA’s top rusher has to be a concern for Oregon coach Chip Kelly. James can take over a game with breakaway runs and 15- to 20-yard spurts on third down that demoralize a defense.
Arizona’s once-proud defense this year is about as demoralized as it can be heading into Eugene.
In the Wildcats’ consecutive losses to Stanford and USC, the time of possession difference in each game included about 37-38 minutes for the Cardinal and Trojans and 23-22 minutes for the Wildcats. It does not matter if a team is playing Washington State — that kind of disparity is asking for trouble.
Don’t get me wrong — winning the time of possession is not essential, but it can go a long way toward Arizona pulling off an upset. Arizona crushed The Citadel 52-6 in the second game of the season, and despite posting 22 first downs to The Citadel’s 10, the Wildcats lost the time-of-possession battle. The Citadel had the ball 32:38 to Arizona’s 27:22. So limiting Oregon’s big plays is the overriding factor.
This means making the right reads defensively. No over-pursuing (which Arizona’s front-seven defenders are prone to do because of their speed and attacking style). Also, the UA can ill-afford confusion with personnel shifts and substitutions (an embarrassment in the Stanford loss) while trying to defend Oregon’s fast-paced attack.
If Stoops stares down co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown more times than the Wildcats score touchdowns, it will be a long night for Arizona.
The bottom line: It’s no coincidence that Oregon’s offense struggled against Cal because James struggled. Also, when Stanford managed to take a 21-3 lead in the first quarter at Eugene on Oct. 2, James had only four carries for a respectable 31 yards but did not get in the end zone. In the last three quarters, when the Ducks outscored the Cardinal 49-10, James gained 226 yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns.
It is obvious James’ physicality, speed and athleticism revs up Oregon’s now-you-see-us, now-you-don’t offense. Will the Ducks remain that ominous if Barner gets more reps?
An opportunistic defense will be the difference for Arizona — one that stands up to the challenge of slowing Oregon’s offense, not one that fakes a fall with the same objective in mind.