Arizona-Oregon State: Five things to watch (plus prediction and poll)by Anthony Gimino on Sep. 25, 2009, under Sports
Arizona kicks off its Pac-10 schedule Saturday at Oregon State (4:30 p.m.), so let’s get to it:
1. Oregon State is a bear to run against
Other than USC, no run defense in the Pac-10 has been better this decade than Oregon State’s. Coach Mike Riley’s team is 17th nationally against the run in the early season, allowing 78.3 yards per game. That’s typically in the neighborhood where Oregon State lives.
Since Riley arrived in 2003, the Beavers have finished fourth, 22nd, 17th, 29th, first and 40 nationally in rushing defense. Oregon State had top 10 finishes in 2000 and 2002 under coach Dennis Erickson.
That all makes it sound like this was a good time for Arizona to give quarterback Nick Foles his first start. Unlike Matt Scott, he has a chance to make Oregon State respect the deep pass and pay for devoting extra personnel to clog the lanes for running backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin.
“They have had a history of having a good defensive front, and it looks like another strength this year,” said Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.
“They do a good job of getting their safeties down in the run game. Their scheme just makes it tough, and then they also have good personnel. When you put those two things together, it’s tough to run against.”
Arizona did OK last season, gaining 139 yards on the ground, including 114 from backup running back Keola Antolin. But over the entire decade, spanning nine games, Arizona has rushed for a grand total of 497 yards against the Beavers.
Arizona’s mileage might vary Saturday. If it doesn’t, the Wildcats are going to have a tough time winning.
Which brings us to …
2. What does Nick Foles have?
Is this a be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment? Arizona fans have favored a switch at quarterback from Matt Scott, but nobody really knows what Foles will do in a full-pressure situation on the road.
He had spring practice and all of fall camp to beat out Scott … and didn’t post enough evidence that he clearly was the better quarterback. In fact, the coaches were a bit disappointed in his performance in the spring.
What we do know is that he has a big arm. Accuracy? According to a 2006 story in the San Antonio Express-News (a feature worth reading, by the way) “his arm is so accurate that offensive lineman Andy Theodosis said when Foles is messing around in practice he’ll hit players who aren’t paying attention in the head — from 50 yards away.”
And if he doesn’t show that kind of accuracy …
3. Watch for the backup quarterbacks
Arizona isn’t alone with a quarterback controversy … or competition … or whatever you want to call it. Oregon State fans have been grumbling about Sean Canfield, who has started the first three games while Lyle Moevao, last season’s starter, was recovering from shoulder surgery.
UA coach Mike Stoops said Scott likely will play in the first half against Oregon State, but who knows? The flow of the game can change the best of intentions — which happened when Arizona failed to put in Foles in the opener.
Meanwhile, Moevao should be available Saturday for the first time this season.
When — or if — the two head coaches decide to go to their backup QB could be a big factor.
Speaking of factors …
4. The “brother factor” favors Oregon State
Oregon State has the dynamic Rodgers brothers — sophomore running back Jacquizz and junior receiver James, who is a threat out wide, as a runner in the fly sweep (a cool name for an end around) and in the return game.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen them miss a running lane,” Stoops said. “They understand where to go with the ball, and they’re very explosive getting there. And they have great balance and strength. They’re a total package.”
Arizona would have countered with tight end Rob Gronkowski is out for the season with a back injury, and older brother Chris. Chris, an H-Back, has been banged up and not much of a factor this season.
“That’s going to be tough,” UA defensive lineman Donald Horton said of stopping the Rodgers brothers.
“They’re good. Jacquizz, he just needs an inch of space and he can take it 90 yards. He can definitely break tackles with the best of them. In my opinion, he’s probably the second-best back in this conference, right there behind Best.”
That would Cal’s Javhid Best. But what about …
5. Grigsby going for more
Junior running back Nic Grigsby has been the only big-play threat for Arizona so far. He has runs of 25, 30, 94 and 58 yards in the past two weeks.
With how tough Oregon State is against the run, Grigsby might be stopped for a lot of 2- and 3-yard carries, but Arizona has to be patient and persistent, giving Grigsby chances for a game-changing run.
Prediction: Oregon State 24, Arizona 17
Each team went 2-1 in non-conference play and figures this is game it needs to win to feel good about its postseason chances.
Strange as it sounds, no Pac-10 team has flummoxed Arizona more in the past decade than Oregon State. The Beavers have won nine of the past 10 meetings. (USC is only 8-2 in the past two games against UA, having lost to the Cats in 1999 and 2000.)
It’s just too much for me to trust a first-time starting quarterback on the road … yeah, I know that formula produced Arizona’s only recent victory over Oregon State, when Willie Tuitama led a 29-27 victory in Reser Stadium in 2005.
That kind of lightning wouldn’t strike twice, would it?